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To wonder how the hell parents coped with SN 50 years ago?

(256 Posts)
slatternlymother Wed 06-Mar-13 12:36:53

It is heartbreaking reading about it now. Sometimes I read thread and feel so angry on the OP's behalf.

But (and this isn't an 'oooh, think how much worse it could be!' thread), it got me to thinking how hard it must've been to have a child with say, ASD or ADHD back in the 60's.

How people must've judged! And those poor children must've been really misunderstood. I bet some of them really took a hiding for their meltdowns over things sad

Does anyone know anyone who parented a child with SN years ago? Or were they a child with SN?

I'd be really interested to know how things have come along. I like to think that people are better educated now. If I see a child having a meltdown, I certainly don't judge.

I think this really stems from a comment from my Dad's aunt who, years ago said 'of course, you've got all these new fangled disorders coming out of the woodwork now, it's all an excuse for badly behaved little beasts...' I have 2 cousins with ASD sad It's always stuck with me. That attitude must've been really rife 50 years ago.

fromparistoberlin Wed 06-Mar-13 12:38:02

read "The Minotaur" by Barbara Vine, heartbreaking

TroublesomeEx Wed 06-Mar-13 12:40:18

That will have been the attitude 50 years ago.

People were put into 'institutions'. Parents abandoned children because they didn't have the support/resources to care for them.

It must have been horrible for all concerned - the parents who didn't understand what the hell was going on and the children who were punished for being themselves.

Bramshott Wed 06-Mar-13 12:43:56

Most kids with SNs were institutionalised 50 years ago.

I do sometimes wonder whether things have now swung too far back in the other direction - not in terms of putting kids away in institutions, but in terms of 50 years ago a child with SNs was the state's problem (dealt with very badly), but now it seems to be 100% the family's problem and they are left to cope with inadequate resources.

cory Wed 06-Mar-13 12:44:23

I think attitudes and expectations can be judged very fairly from a comment made by my kindly and genuinely caring mother, a woman born in the 30's, when the son of one of her friends, a man with learning disabilities was killed in a car crash: "oh well, it was all for her best". She didn't mean it in any nasty sense, as in "these people don't deserve to live" and she would never grudge resources. But for somebody of her generation, it was just impossible to imagine that somebody in that situation wouldn't have such a hard life that death would come as a blessed relief. Says it all really.

OzmaofOz Wed 06-Mar-13 12:45:05

I used to work with adults with LD, a lot of them grew up in long stay institutions which were closed down in the 80s.

SCOTCHandWRY Wed 06-Mar-13 12:46:24

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Donnadoon Wed 06-Mar-13 12:46:27

My Aunt now age 55 was only diagnosed with Autism and Aspergas aged 40
She was branded all sorts of names at school including ' lazy, lives in a dream land, never known anyone like her, weird by the other kids'
My Grandmother had a hard time too because the teachers expected her to know 'what to do with her '

HeySoulSister Wed 06-Mar-13 12:47:19

My aunt was 'mentally handicapped'. Mental age of a 7 yr old. No idea what today's diagnosis was tho

She went to a special school by bus.

Twenty years older than me but god, we had great fun! grin

She went into a 'home' eventually, which was also great fun. She lived her life ( born in 1948) lived in a mining community where gran got sympathy and no bad remarks that I ever heard

elliejjtiny Wed 06-Mar-13 12:49:41

Not 50 years ago but I'm 30 and dyspraxic. There were a few of us with undiagnosed SEN and we had to sit together at "the slow table" at school. The LEA could only afford to support a certain number of children with SEN so the schools were only allowed to refer that number of children for assessment. Everyone else had to sink or swim. One boy's parents paid for him to see an ed psyc and the teacher told the whole class that he was not dyslexic, just a lazy toad (he got a dyslexia diagnosis). There was another boy who adults used to describe as "not right in the head" who probably had ADHD and/or ASD.

freddiefrog Wed 06-Mar-13 12:52:38

My Mil has the same attitude as OP's great aunt unfortunately. She thinks it's all a load of 'new fangled nonsense'. We are going through assessments for DD2, and MiL can't understand why we can't just 'make her' do something. 'a good hiding' would soon sort her out, etc, etc. 'we didn't have this in my day' is her favourite refrain!

But even when DH was at school during the 80's he was always dismissed as stupid, lazy, thick. He is dyslexic

dixiechick1975 Wed 06-Mar-13 12:53:47


My mum talks about being sent to a horrific place as part of her teacher training in 1960's.

Also I suspect efforts were not made to keep children with obvious disbilities alive.

My DD was born with a physical disability. She wouldn't breastfeed and was tube fed for a few days. Can easily see how it could have been spun years ago as not feeding = failure to thrive = kinder just to let her go.

ReallyTired Wed 06-Mar-13 12:54:55

In the past many children with SN died, not through neglect, but lack of knowhow. One of my father's cousins with cystic fibroses died because there were no anti biotics or decent intensive care to treat the pnemonia he died of at the age of two. Many children with Down or CP also died because of lack of medical knowledge.

Ironically medical knowledge has increased the number of children with SN because there is neonatal intensive care. We are also having babies later in life which increases the risks of some SN.

People had bigger families and could not look after a severely disabled child if they had nine other children. Parents were expected to put their disabled children in institutions and still do in many countries. There was no other state help offered.

Its shocking to think that before the 1970s SN children were not required to have an education as they were deemed uneducatable. Attitudes have improved but there is still a long way to go. My delightful mother does not understand why ex friends are offended that she described their granson as a "mongol".

Pandemoniaa Wed 06-Mar-13 12:55:54

Very many children were simply put into institutions. Depending on how "enlightened" these institutions were, they were either shut away or horribly stereotyped if taken on outings. I lived near a residential establishment for adults with learning disabilities when I was a child (early 60's) and the women were all taken out for walks wearing these dreadful outfits consisting of tweed coats, little woolly berets and ankle socks. I still remember thinking how wrong this was even though I was probably too young to know why.

We had a girl who clearly had ASD when I was at (private) school too. She lasted a term - during which she received no support - before her parents were asked to remove her and send her away to somewhere "suitable". Suitable being a euphemism for out of sight, of course.

So from my experience, while the state did take responsibility more readily, it wasn't the sort of responsibility that we'd find acceptable nowadays. Neither would we accept (and quite rightly too) the overwhelming culture of shame that parents seemed to be expected to bear for having a child with additional needs.

Crawling Wed 06-Mar-13 12:57:37

My uncle who has scizophrenia as a child spent most of his childhood institutionalised and most of his 20s.

stormforce10 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:00:58

Ellie I'm dyspraxic too. Our school had a special needs unit and the children in there were stigmatised by everyone else. When I was 9 they tried to move me to it and I point blank refused. I still remember screaming at my teacher that I wasn't working with the stupid people, that I wasn't stupid, that theyd never make me stay there unless they chained me up. Three teachers actually tried to drag me there even lifting me off the ground. One told me I had to go in special needs because I wasn't clever enough to stay in normal class. I am sad to say I kicked two teachers and bit another and run back to my normal class and sat in my normal place. It took the head promising to let me stay where I was to calm me down.

I stayed in mainstream classes and ended up doing quite well (10 A-Cs at GCSE, 3 a levels and a degree from a russel group university) I often look back and think if I'd not put up so much resistance my life could well be very different now.

I thought they were going to tell my mum that I'd attacked the teachers but oddly enough they never did hmm

LadyBigtoes Wed 06-Mar-13 13:06:55

My MIL struggled massively with DP's brother who was diagnosed with ASD as an adult. It put a huge stress on the family, they divorced, and MIL had to endure investigations into what was going on with DBIL that concluded she must be to blame (despite having DP, who is NT...!)

MIL and DBIL weren't a great combo as he needed routine and predictability and she is a very fluttery, emotional and disorganised type - but DBIL thrived much better when with his dad who was very routine-bound (perhaps on the spectrum himself). So I'd say there probably were people who worked out ways of understanding and helping in some cases. Just a lot of misunderstanding and misery too sad

stormforce10 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:08:32

Going back much much further dd recently read a book about Ancient Greece and was horrified to discover that ill or disabled babies would be left out in the open to see whehter or not they survived which obviously the vast majority would not.

lainiekazan Wed 06-Mar-13 13:08:33

Mil had a "spastic" child in the late 1950s who died when he was ten. Mil's mil wouldn't allow her to visit because of what the neighbours would say. When dh's eldest (living) brother started school, no one would stand near to let alone talk to mil because she had a handicapped child in a wheelchair.

People used to think having disabled children was somehow "your fault" and reflected on the family. Mil is in many ways a giant pain in the arse, but I do respect her for keeping and looking after a very disabled child when in those days families were encouraged to put them in institutions and deny their existence.

LadyBigtoes Wed 06-Mar-13 13:13:28

But, historically, there are examples like HeySoulSister describes, where a child with SN was embraced by the small community. I remember studying Wordsworth's poem The Idiot Boy (sorry about the title!) which is about a mother's love for her mentally disabled son, who lives with her and isn't stigmatised - one of the commentaries I read described how such children were treasured because "their soul is with god". I don't know how general or widespread that view was but at least it wasn't all horror, IYSWIM.

LadyPessaryPam Wed 06-Mar-13 13:15:14

Our next door neighbour had a son with very bad cerebral palsy when I was a child. The answer is they didn't really cope, they existed. Their son died when he last late teens as I recall. My DM colluded with his mother at one point to fake a suicide attempt so the neighbour could get some respite care. I think kids either went into a 'home' or you got left to deal with it yourself. Imagine having to deal with a big 16 year old lad who couldn't walk, talk or feed himself and who was doubly incontinent with bugger all help. Bloody tragic.

LadyPessaryPam Wed 06-Mar-13 13:16:26

This was 50 years ago BTW.

saintlyjimjams Wed 06-Mar-13 13:20:04

The danger with having a son like my own (severely autistic) was that the mothers were often blamed for the condition, so the children were forcibly removed and placed in institutions sad I can't imagine having ds1 forcibly refused from me, with everyone blaming me. This book describes such a case.

It must have been very isolating. I have a whole community of friends with children very similar to my son, but we met online. Almost everything of any use that I have found out wrt my son (and there have been hundreds of things) has been via friends - and online friends, rather than the professionals.

I am often incredibly grateful that ds1 was born in the internet age.

Scrazy Wed 06-Mar-13 13:31:01

Not quite 50 years ago but at primary school in the late 60's we had a few kids who obviously had learning difficulties and a special teacher used to give them some lesson and some they had with us. I guess it is similar to nowadays.

saintlyjimjams Wed 06-Mar-13 13:32:20

It was actually 1986 when education became compulsory for all children. Prior to that some children with disabilities were deemed 'ineducable' and were the responsibility of health not education.

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