The history of intellectual disability treatment

Idiot = 2 years

Imbecile = 2-7 years

Moron = 7-12 years

These words may read as harsh and wrong however, these were the actual psychological terms that were used just over 50 years ago! That’s incredible how these terms that are now seen as derogatory were once used to label vulnerable children and adults.

There was also a long time in history before these words were realised to be derogatory and better care was achieved by interventions and the health service:


  • Segregation in low standard environments. This saw the start of Eugenics: in other words they don’t believe that people with disabilities or disorders should populate due to their genetics being “abnormal”

Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population 

Illness medical 

  • Professional treatments in segregated environments.
  • Cared for in hospitals by nurse under the supervision of doctors. (Didn’t go all too well)
  • They had the view that intellectual disabilities were incurable and therefore shouldn’t try help.

Religious 1.

  • Holy innocent
  • The former treatments were not wholly helpful as they became violent and disrespectful for those under their care.
  • A charity was set up to see that this didn’t continue to happen

Religious 2. 

  • Eternal child
  • Dignity and respect as small children
  • However the institutions still had no personality (no decoration and communal clothing)

Object of pity, burden of charity

  • viewed as unproductive
  • children with downs syndrome were still thought of as economic risk for vital heart surgery

Social Deviance Menace

  • genetic research
  • petitions objecting to new community services because of danger
  • women with intellectual disabilities were still being “steralised” so that they wouldn’t reproduce

Sociological Deprived Minority 

  • PEOPLE FIRST – Normalisation
  • deinstitutionalisation
  • right to be in society

Educational Model 

  • applied behaviour analysis
  • right to education until 19y
  • environments adapted for learning

The route to the current views and interventions for people with intellectual disabilities has been a complicated and gruelling process and were still not in a place where we can be happy about the care. There is still a long way to go and in the last year  or so there were reports of a scandal at Winterbourne View care home with carers taking advantage of the patients to the extent of abuse. This came in less that 20 years of the promise in 1980 that al institutions would be closed down and all people in need would be given the care they needed.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s