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Lecturer explores history of care for developmental disorders

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Joshua Diehl, the chief strategy officer for autism services at South Bend’s LOGAN Center, explored the issue of care for the developmentally disabled throughout history in a Tuesday lecture, “The Past, Present and Future of Services for People with Disabilities: A LOGAN Perspective.” Diehl will be a fellow in Saint Mary’s Master of Autism Studies and is involved in autism research at Notre Dame.

Diehl said the purpose of his speech was to discuss the history of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It has really been a checkered past and I want to intersperse how [the Michiana] region has played a role in changing that checkered past — at least moving forward to improve the situation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” he said.

During the 19th century, Diehl said states implemented sterilization laws that had adverse effects for disabled people.

“The movement toward eugenics greatly affected people with developmental disabilities,” he said. “ … Sometimes people were killed. There was not protection under the 14th Amendment … court case after court case went against people with disabilities.”

The terms “moron, idiot and imbecile” were not derogatory terms during this time, Diehl explained, but instead were medical terms used to classify people with disabilities.

“Someone who was a moron had moderate intellectual ability, an idiot had moderate intellectual disabilities and a person with very severe intellectual disability was an imbecile,” Diehl said. “It is fascinating because it transferred into pop culture and the way that we insult each other. The term that replaced these terms was mental retardation, and the word retard has taken on that role. We have a more visceral response to the word retard, but we do not have that same visceral response to these words.”

Following the World Wars, there was a proliferation of institutions that frequently offered poor care for patients, Diehl said.

“One of them was in South Bend,” he said. “What was different about this hospital was that it was for all ages and it was enormous; it was for all of the northern area of Indiana … the conditions were atrocious, children were stacked upon children with huge ratios that were one to 40.”

In the 1950s, public schools were allowed to deny children with disabilities, Diehl said. In response, a group of parents created the LOGAN School which focused on education for children with disabilities and job preparation for adults with disabilities. In the 1970s, congressional legislation ensured education for everyone regardless of disability, he said. LOGAN and other organizations had to adapt from being schools to support centers.

“That transition to school took a long time and it is still is taking a long time,” Diehl said.

Diehl said that a deep awareness of disabilities is no longer adequate, and a better understanding is needed.

“Everyone is aware now that developmental disabilities exist and are important, but I think what is missing is knowledge about them,” he said.

Diehl encouraged people to share new ideas to improve education for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“If you are afraid to say your idea, remember someone pitched an idea about a tornado filled with sharks, which became the multimillion-dollar movie ’Sharknado,’” he said.

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