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Mental Handicap: The World Scene

From: Speeches Of Rosemary F. Dybwad
Creator: Rosemary F. Dybwad (author)
Date: 1975
Source: Friends of the Samuel Gridley Howe Library and the Dybwad Family

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Thus the movement initiated and carried by the associations for the mentally handicapped is in ferment almost everywhere. There are striking similarities in their patterns of organization and development, but also some acute disagreements as to the future role and function of the associations, the kind of membership they should attract, the way in which they should seek financial support, and the specific programs they should pursue.


A clearer perspective can be achieved from a view of the historical developments of the movement, using the last three decades as a frame of reference. The 1940s saw the beginnings of parent groups, most of them either fairly closely tied to a particular service such as a residential institution, or else themselves managing a self-help project, a day school, or a recreation program. Fairly soon the need was recognized for a broader base, for the development of a national concern and national action.


Thus the decade of the 1950s saw the development of national organizations which derived their strength from a network of local and regional state member associations. The emphasis at first was still largely on cooperative self-help action but was increasingly broadened to include demands for governmental assistance and the recognition of the need to work with experts from various professions. Primary emphasis still focused on providing direct services for retarded children.


The third decade, the 1960s, might be called the decade of sophistication. It brought a more realistic recognition of the immensity of the problem of mental retardation, both in terms of the numbers affected and the multiplicity of services required during one retarded person's entire lifetime. The need for broad, multi-faceted governmental action was recognized, and in many countries the associations called for and aimed at participation in government commissions to study the needs and coordinate more effectively services for the mentally retarded.


While there had been some international communication in the form of personal visits and correspondence between leaders of the movement in various countries from the early beginnings, the 1960s saw the realization and recognition of a formal international organization, the International League of Societies for the Mentally Handicapped.


The 1970s seem to have led to a period of organizational introspection. As Dr. Sterner of Sweden expressed it recently, the associations are asking themselves, "Who are we and what do we want to be?"


Earlier this year my husband and I had the opportunity of serving as consultants in assisting a task force of the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded to review its purpose/ function, and organizational structure. While the Canadian Association may, in certain areas, be farther advanced than those in some European countries. Dr. Sterner's survey confirmed that the following excerpt from the (unpublished) Canadian task force report represents the trend toward which the longer established organizations are moving.


Associations for the Mentally Retarded, like any other social institution, are operating in a world which is changing for mentally handicapped people just as it is changing for all of us. Such associations have to take account of current trends which are bound to affect the way they go about their primary aim. These trends suggest that the associations can best meet this challenge by:


a) assuring the handicapped individual services in his own local area


b) assuring him services which will tend to integrate rather than segregate him from the ordinary patterns of life in that area


c) emphasizing and strengthening the most important social context of the individual: families with a handicapped child are seen now as units to be cherished and supported rather than units which have to be broken up by a recommendation for early residential care.


At the same time -that- government is increasingly involved in direct provision and operation of services, mental retardation is increasingly seen in conjunction with other disabilities, such as the so-called developmental disabilities (Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, and other disorders), and, more broadly, all social services are increasingly seen as part of a whole which is categorized by individual need rather than administrative label: i.e., the generic approach to planning and provision.


If the associations are to continue to be as effective in the future in achieving their first aim -- the fulfillment of the individual handicapped person -- as they have been in the past, they clearly have to take account of these trends. This in turn will mean finding new and exciting roles, new answers to some of the organizational questions which the current heart-searching is all about.


The changing trends in the field of mental retardation which are producing net challenges for Associations for the Mentally Retarded can be identified as follows:


1. From service provision to demonstrating new ideas

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