The Art of Autism Mourns the Passing of Dr. Darold Treffert

Darold Treffert
Darold Treffert

“The remarkable abilities of the artist with autism surface because of their autism, not in spite of it.” Darold Treffert, M.D.

The Art of Autism mourns the death of Dr. Darold Treffert. Dr. Treffert was a psychiatrist and researcher who specialized in autism, hyperlexia, and savant syndrome. He coined the term “Islands of Genius.”

Upon hearing of his passing, hundreds of families and professionals who have been influenced by his research took to social media to mourn their loss.

Dr. Treffert has written articles and books many for Scientific American and Mind. His books include Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome and Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant. The Treffert Center in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, has helped helped thousands of families with developmental disabilities. He used research-based interventions that focused on abilities rather than disabilities.

He wrote a chapter on Myths About Autism for Debra Muzikar (then Debra Hosseini)’s book The Art of Autism: Shattering Myths.

“Dr Treffert has been the most influential thought leader in my professional and personal life. He had a special combination of qualities that will live on through his work, his legacy, the people he taught and those he cared for. Friendly, humble, caring, down to earth, blessed with sheer brilliance and deep wisdom, all wrapped in warmth, generosity and kindred curiosity.. a rare gem of a human, seeking to understand all of us, To appreciate and respect the vulnerabilities and strengths within all of us, seeking the depths of the human brain but never equating it with the vastness of the human mind or the richness of any “ordinary” soul. He taught me to find the good and grow it, to listen first, listen again And keep listening, to speak only when words can comfort or shed some truth. Dr Darold Treffert, you’ve shaped my trajectory for life and helped heal our family from the first hello. I will do my best to serve as you did. Thank you for caring.” Former Art of Autism Board member Dr. Lamis Jabri

Dr. Lamis Jabri, a psychiatrist herself, took her son Adam to see Dr. Treffert a couple of years back. She recalls the incident in this touching account.

Did you know, my name is a palindrome?

You gently whispered as you knelt down to meet my little guy..

My heart melted..Oh Dr Treffert..

You knew exactly what to say to my little frightened one, the minute we walked in.. because you had listened.. because you had read all my lengthy crazy emails and saw all the pictures – and I mean ALL the pictures that I had sent you.. because you had asked me questions beforehand and you had listened to my answers..

Because you knew I was seeking understanding..

And you offered exactly that.. Non-standard, non-run-of-the-mill, non-clinical, Non-generic, genuine understanding..

Under his curls his eyes widened, He looked up to see who had said the magic word “palindrome!”

And you waited right there.. you just said it once as you knelt down.. And you held it right there.. pausing.. non-urgently, no pressure, no expectation, no judgment, just a pause..

And he felt your intention.. he felt your warmth.. he felt safe..

he smiled, giggled, and squeezed out “T-R-E-F-F-E-R-T, same forward and backward!”

And as he gestured with his little fingers in the air, you said “Yes! You’re writing it in the air”.. and there you had him, you got him, he was home..

Dr Treffert has been the most influential thought leader in my professional and personal life. He had a special combination of qualities that will live on through his work, his legacy, the people he taught and those he cared for. Friendly, humble, caring, down to earth, blessed with sheer brilliance and deep wisdom, all wrapped in warmth, generosity and kindred curiosity.. a rare gem of a human, seeking to understand all of us, to appreciate and respect the vulnerabilities and strengths within all of us, marveling at the depths of the human brain but never equating it with the vastness of the human mind or the richness of any “ordinary” soul.

He taught us to find the good and grow it, to listen first, listen again and keep listening, to speak only when words can comfort or shed some truth.

Dr Darold Treffert, you’ve shaped my trajectory for life and helped heal our family from the first hello. I will do my best to serve as you did.

You will forever be Dr Palindrome Treffert to my little guy, who’s now a big guy, who did exactly what you said he’d do “grow up to love himself because we loved all of him”

We love you Dr. Treffert. Thank you for everything. We will carry your message to others every chance we get. Rest In Peace dear mentor, dear teacher, dear healer, dear friend.”

The Art of Autism’s thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Treffert’s family and all families he has touched with his kindness and regard for others.

Cover image: Courtesy of Dr. Darold Treffert’s Facebook page.

1 Comment

  • My mom and I had the please this summer to meet Dr. Treffert’s daughter Jill. She lives only twenty minutes from our home in Rochester, MI. Jill also came to hear me preach at my brother Chuck’s church. Dr. Treffert wrote the foreword for my third book Views from the Spectrum. He was an amazing person and inspiration for all in the autism community.

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