Disability History Part II: Witchcraft, Handicap, and Slow Advancements #netde #eduDE

In the first part of this series, I covered ancient times up until the Renaissance. I stopped at 1492, which was a very important year around the world. The central ideas of the Renaissance were the human body is a perfect thing, and those with disabilities were not considered perfect at all. During the Spanish Inquisition, disabled children were drowned and burned. Disabled children didn’t have a place in the perfect “Christian” world.

In Colonial America, disabled children were treated horribly. Many of them would be locked in cellars and spectators would pay to “gawk at the oddities”. Many parents forbid these children to leave the home or go out in public. Witchcraft accusations still ran rampant against girls and women, and many disabled females were whipped, tortured, burned or murdered as a result. Worldwide estimates of females killed during the “witchcraft” times is around 100,000.
Asylums and institutions continued to grow around Europe and conditions were inhumane for the residents. Essentially, they were left to rot. Orphanages also housed many of the disabled children.

In 1601, Queen Elizabeth decided to┬áplace the groups of poor into 3 subsets. The disabled poor were at the bottom. Called the “disabled poor”, they were ejected from hospitals and monasteries and forced to beg on the streets. Each would be given a cap to get money, thus the term “handicap” came into existence.

Advancements did slowly come for the deaf in Europe. Giralmo Cardano discovered in the 16th century that deaf people can be reasoned with. This eventually led to the creation of deaf schools in the 1700s, the first of which was a school in Germany created by Samuel Heinicke. This was followed by The Academy For The Deaf And Dumb in Scotland.

The blind were starting to be seen as something human when Valentin Huay opened the Institution For Blind Children in Europe. Huay first discovered blind people could actually read texts if the letters were raised. This eventually led to the discovery of Braille in 1829, but it did not become widely used until it was put into use at the St. Louis School For The Blind in 1860.

During the 1700s and 1800s, many disabled people deemed insane were put on ships and sailed from port to port as part of a tour. People would actually pay to view and laugh at these disabled people. This is where the term “Ship of fools” was created. At the end of the tours, the disabled were left at whatever the end of the destination was and abandoned. Even in London, at “Bedlam”, people would pay to see the insane.

Mental illness was starting to be looked at differently by some people in the world. Phillipe Pinel, who was a physician at La Bicetre Asylum in Paris, France, was one of the first to begin classifying these disorders. In 1793, Pinel was so horrified by the treatment of patients that he literally let them loose from their chains. Some of these patients had been shackled by chains for over 30 years. In 1800, Pinel wrote the “Treatises On Insanity”. Pinel put mental illness into four separate groups: melancholy, dementia, mania without delirium, and mania with delirium.

Beginning in 1801, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard began his work with “The Wild Boy Of Ayeron”, of which I wrote in more detail on 7/12/14: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/was-the-wild-boy-of-ayeron-autistic-how-did-this-help-create-special-education-edude/

In 1805, Benjamin Rush published Medical Inquiries And Observation, which was also one of the first modern attempts to explain certain mental disorders and illnesses. Many of these advances for individuals with disabilities were a step in the right direction, but science needed to catch up with theory.

To be continued…

Disability History Part 1: The slaughter and torture of children with disabilities #netde #eduDE

Disability in children has been around since the dawn of man. Time has not been kind to these children. Different societies have acted differently towards them, but more often than not, these children have not had a pleasant life. Some didn’t even have the opportunity for a life.

In ancient Greece, many of these children were killed or left to fend for themselves in the woods. Some children, who were blind, were often held to a loftier status in the community. For the most part, Greek society did not want these children. The Greek Olympics celebrated the perfect human being, and disabled children were seen as the complete opposite of this perfect physical embodiment. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, told the people if their child was not perfect than they should kill it. Greeks believed a baby was not human until seven days after birth, and babies deemed as less than perfect were slaughtered as a result.

Even the Bible has what can be seen as negative stereotypes of the disabled. The Old Testament book Leviticus has a reference to the disabled as very discriminatory, indicating the disabled can’t take prayer with God or be a priest. Even in the New Testament, in the book of John, Jesus states disability is a punishment from God and he said “Be cured and sin no more.” But for the most part, Jesus taught his disciples to love all children, no matter what they may look like.

During the Roman empire, many children with special needs served as jesters to be mocked and ridiculed in the Roman courts. During the gladiator games at the Roman Coliseum, disabled children would be thrown under horses while dwarfs would fight women and blind gladiators would viciously fight each other to the death. Ironically, Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great both suffered from epilepsy and were idolized by the people as it was believed they were held in great status from the Gods. The people believed their disabilities allowed them to see visions and the rulers seized these opportunities to lead the people.

After the fall of the Roman empire, Europe plunged into a time period of instability and chaos. Known as the Medieval Times, children with disability were still treated as something less than human. During times of relative stability, these children would stay with their families and work. But during times of plague, these children were seen as evil, and were constantly beaten or murdered by those who blamed them for the plight of society. The act of placing disabled children as court jesters continued during this time period.

Martin Luther, the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation, said the following about children with disabilities: “Take the changeling child to the river and drown it.” Female children or women with disabilities were accused of being witches, and many were burned at the stake or murdered. The Renaissance was in full swing, and in 1492, the first “mental institution” opened in England, St. Mary of Bethlehem. Children placed there were treated to horrible and inhumane conditions. It was nicknamed “Bedlam”, and the word bedlam has been used ever since to describe a place like this. For the most part though, families took care of their own, and kept their disabled children at home where they would be safe. Scientific views of life were beginning to slowly replace religious views, and children with disabilities were beginning to be seen differently. All that would soon change.

To Be Continued…

Was The Wild Boy of Ayeron Autistic? Did His Story Help Create Special Education? #netde #eduDE

In 1800, a prepubescent boy was found in the woods of France near an area called Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance. The boy was taken to a doctor, and the physician determined the boy had lived in the woods most of his life. Nobody knew where he came from. Some said he had been abandoned as the bastard offspring of nobility, or he became missing during the French Revolution. The doctors who examined him likened him to a feral creature.

Eventually, he was taken in by a young physician named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard. He quickly noticed the boy wouldn’t speak, and surmised he was deaf. But he soon learned the boy could hear, but he would not talk at all. Itard believed the boy had been in the woods since the age of five, and guessed he was twelve when he was found, putting him in the wild for a period of seven years. The boy had many scars on his body, and very typical food tastes for someone that lived in the wild.

Itard named the boy Victor and took him to the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris. Victor was studied by a well-known doctor named Roch-Ambrose Cucurron Sicard. Itard wanted Victor to have intense and individual instruction. During these years, The Enlightenment was in full swing, so Sicard and his followers believed studying Victor could help prove the theories of the time, that man could be a noble savage. The studies did not prove this at all, and Sicard quit treating Victor.

Itard took Victor back to his home, and began to try to teach Victor to speak and to show human emotion. Had Itard not taken Victor in, he would have wound up in an institution with horrible conditions. Itard’s main goals for Victor were to teach Victor to speak, to awaken his senses, teach him ideas, and to bring Victor to a level of normal social communication. Victor had the ability to understand and listen, and even to read, but only at the most basic levels. Itard knew the only way he was going to teach Victor was if he showed respect to him, and while it didn’t help Victor reach Itard’s goals for him, it helped form the basis for many modern forms of special education.

As a result of Itard’s attempts with Victor, he has become known as the “father” of oral education for the deaf, special education for mentally and physically handicapped individuals, and behavior modification for children with disabilities. Through Itard’s methods with “The Wild Boy”, Victor was able to show empathy for people but his language and listening skills were reactive. Even though he had the ability, it was mostly in anticipation to his needs when he was in the woods. Itard used what is now known as a “sensory environment” to teach Victor.

The scars on Victor’s body have been determined to be those from child abuse, not attacks by animals in the woods. Many have guessed that Victor was born a normal child, but developed some type of mental disability. Nobody thinks Victor could have survived in the woods as a toddler, so he had to have been around human beings before he was most likely abandoned. Many believe Victor was autistic, because he was not technically deaf, but even after intense instruction from Itard, he was still not able to speak. Itard used sensory stimuli to help Victor, but the response from Victor was not what he hoped for.

Itard’s teachings with Victor helped pave the way for later educators such as Eduard Seguin and Maria Montessori, who built upon Itard’s techniques to help mentally retarded individuals around Europe. For Victor, his life was a short one, dying in 1828 in the home where he was taught that even if you have a disability, a caring hand can make life more comfortable. In a way, one could say Victor had the very first IEP.