According to family lore, Polgar put on his show and then, after taking his final bows, approached his hosts with a proposal: that they let him bring Donald with him on the road, as part of his act.
Donald’s parents were taken aback. “My mother,” recalls Donald’s brother, Oliver, “was not at all interested.” For one, things were finally going well for Donald, after a difficult start in life. “She explained to [Polgar] that he was in school, he had to keep going to classes,” Oliver says. He couldn’t simply drop everything for a run at show business, especially not when he had college in his sights.
But there was also, whether they spoke this aloud to their guest or not, the sheer indignity of what Polgar was proposing. Donald’s being odd, his parents could not undo; his being made an oddity of, they could, and would, prevent. The offer was politely but firmly declined.
What the all-knowing mentalist didn’t know, however, was that Donald, the boy who missed the chance to share his limelight, already owned a place in history. His unusual gifts and deficits had been noted outside Mississippi, and an account of them had been published—one that was destined to be translated and reprinted all over the world, making his name far better-known, in time, than Polgar’s.
His first name, anyway.
Donald was the first child ever diagnosed with autism. Identified in the annals of autism as “Case 1 … Donald T,” he is the initial subject described in a 1943 medical article that announced the discovery of a condition unlike “anything reported so far,” the complex neurological ailment now most often called an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. At the time, the condition was considered exceedingly rare, limited to Donald and 10 other children—Cases 2 through 11—also cited in that first article.
That was 67 years ago. Today, physicians, parents, and politicians regularly speak of an “epidemic” of autism. The rate of ASDs, which come in a range of forms and widely varying degrees of severity—hence spectrum—has been accelerating dramatically since the early 1990s, and some form of ASD is now estimated to affect one in every 110 American children. And nobody knows why.
To read the entire (wonderful) article click here.
Did you know that autism was first hypothesized by psychologists to be caused by bad mothering? The thinking was that poor parenting caused children to isolate and make for themselves a safe but unreachable world. This was later discarded when it was found that autism has biological roots.
This mother told a little of her autistic son’s journey here.
He had a one-on-one aide all the way up until 8th grade, when we started to phase it out as he grew in confidence and abilities. The school originally wanted to send him “out of district” with all the other kids with autism, to a self-contained classroom, instead of kindergarten. I thought about Matt being in that classroom and never getting a chance to learn to do math, or read, or write reports, like I knew he could. You could just tell he WANTED to learn. He had already taught himself how to read. I decided I wanted him to be mainstreamed with a full time aide. I fought the school when they said they couldn’t do it, when I pointed out the fact that they would be giving up the money for him from the state, PLUS the money they would have to pay the other district to take him, plus the expense of bussing him there. I knew they could hire someone much cheaper than that, and they finally agreed with me.
He has earned not one, but TWO Associate’s Degrees at the college, and is now taking classes “just for fun.”
While we as a society have learned a great deal and put together some outstanding services for children on the autism spectrum (think Easterseals), there remains a gap in support and services as these children reach adulthood.