Daley Mayle - I have a son with severe and complex learning difficulties (ie, in outdated parlance, severely mentally handicapped and autistic). The idea of special education and mental hospitals being linked is appalling to me. Someone with learning difficulties isn't mentally ill unless they also have a recognised mental illness. Not all autistic people are violent; my son has never hit anyone in his entire life and the same is true of the majority of kids at the school he went to (a local authority day special school for kids with severe and complex learning difficulties). The violent ones there were so much in the minority that they were taught on their own - no more than six or seven out of a school population of 70-odd. I don't mean to say anything at all about your mother's experiences, but my fairly wide experience of autism, and the education and adult services associated with it, at least over the last 20 years, has been very different from what you describe. And my (adult) son is severely autistic and has a learning age of around 4, although that too is an outdated concept now.
May i reiterate that this is not intended as a criticism of any kind, just as my perspective on the situation. Care in the community has not been all bad. The thought of my innocent child, as a child, living in the ambience of a mental hospital horrifies me. And may I also add that it is precisely this model of dealing with those with severe learning difficulties that has made so many older people so spectacularly unsympathetic to those affected. I've heard too many mutterings of 'in my day these people were put away where normal people didn't have to look at them' to have any kindly feelings towards that model. It is very striking, when you have a child who draws attention to himself like mine, to see the age-divide. When you're out with such a child, you generally find that any problems come from teenagers (which you'd expect because of their immaturity) and old people. Those who have grown up meeting disabled people in everyday situations are much kinder in general.
We live in more enlightened times GG. I was talking about the 1970s. At the time the place was considered to be one of the best but that was only because the News of the World had done an expose of physical and mental cruelty that went on there previously. The villas containing the patients were built in the grounds of a place called Leybourne Grange near West Malling in Kent and, for the time, was pretty good accommodation and was well staffed and they were well paid. I was a ward orderly there when I was a student and worked 12 hour weekend shifts at double time and earned the weekly average national wage for two days work.
There was a wide mix of children in the school, Down's and autistic and generally mentally disabled. They were also heavily medicated, chemically coshed, as The Mail might have said so there wasn't a great deal of aggression but it did happen and my mother was decked a few times.
I had a great deal of affection for the people with Down's Syndrome, they are truly special, usually very kind and affectionate and always willing to please. But, again, the degree of disability caused by Down's varies greatly. There was usually a couple of 'high grade' Down's on each villa who helped out in the kitchen and domestic work. They were very proud of their position that set them above their fellow patients.
I saw an awful lot in the years I worked there and the experience makes me grateful for what I've got and recognise that we are all very different but not necessarily better or more normal than the next person.
One of the saddest experiences was meeting some lovely old ladies who had been put into the mental institution system because they had fallen pregnant out of marriage at a young age and had shamed their families. They were now completely institutionalised and could not exist outside.