Forest, Mississippi is a small southern town with a population around 6,000. One researcher, using Census data and science to rank the most economically and ethnically diverse cities in the state of Mississippi, put Forest on top. People of many different faiths can be found in Forest. Average family income is about $26,000, with almost a quarter of the population below the poverty line. Forest’s residents are roughly 40% white, 50% African-American, and 18% Latino. Nearly 13% of its residents are 65 years of age or older
Everybody in Forest pretty much knows one another, and Don is no exception. Donald Gray Triplett, or “DT” is one of Forest’s senior citizens. He also happens to be the first person ever diagnosed with autism. As a retiree, he still enjoys reading his morning newspaper, driving his 2000 Caddy around town, and playing golf. And he loves to travel in the U.S. and abroad.
His remarkable life is discussed in some detail in the book, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. With the exception of a short period of time in a nearby institution, where he was sent by doctors at 3 years of age, DT has spent his entire life in Forest. The book’s authors, John Donvan and Caren Zucker, traveled to DT’s home town and spent some time with him. They describe the culture of Forest as predictable, slow-paced, tranquil, and safe.
DT’s mom played a critical role in his development. She constantly sought to find out more about her son’s condition and what she could do to help him. She helped him learn to communicate, connect with others, and take care of himself. DT attended the local high school. Then, once he graduated from nearby Millsaps College with a bachelor’s degree in French, DT returned to Forest to work at the local bank.
In spite of overwhelming odds, DT ‘s life story is one of adjustment and hope. Unlike most autistic adults, DT lives on his own. One neighbor had this to say about DT, “I don’t think any of us has ever thought of him as challenged. He is simply unique, just like the rest of us who live here.” What a refreshing perspective!!!
DT and his inner circle of friends and family deserve a great deal of credit for his success. But so does Forest. To quote Donvan, “If we can bottle whatever Forest, Mississippi did over 80 years of his lifetime, and export it to the other communities, the world would be a better place for everybody (my italics).” I couldn’t agree more.
Please note: I am currently writing a book about my entire family and how we have grown over the years, in large part because of Jimmy. My son Jimmy is a middle-aged adult on the autism spectrum. The voices and perspectives of my two daughters and wife as well as other friends of Jimmy are included throughout. It is a real, uplifting, and remarkable story; one which I have wanted to share for a long time. The book will be published later this year.
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