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1940s-1950s – Birth of the associations

Many parents felt unhappy about labelling children with severe and multiple disability as insane, and the many community-based organisations developed in the 1940s and 1950s sought to draw a distinction between children with disability and the otherwise inappropriate and broader categorisation of 'insane'.

At the time, the Slow Learning Children's Group, Spastic Welfare Association and the Mentally Incurable Children's Association, marked a major breakthrough in attitudes towards the care of people with disability. The formal supports which were introduced in the late 1940s and 1950s were initially based on a medical or custodial model, typified by segregation and institutionalisation. For example the Nadezda Hospital for Spastic Children was established to ensure children living in country areas were not denied treatment. The children in this facility were under the care of a matron and trained staff. Although such a facility contrasts strongly with the out-of-home supports available today, there is little doubt that this 1950s option compares favourably with the previous alternative.

Dormitory for children

Typical dormitory accommodation for 11 children (above). Three veiled staff tuck the children into bed at night. Click to enlarge.

Typically, children with disability spent time with other children with disability. Whether at home, at school, or moving between the two, their disability determined their school, their home, their friends and their future.

Old spastic welfare infant treatment group building

Around 80 children (above) outside the old Spastic Welfare Infant Treatment Group building. Click to enlarge.

For these children (probably in the 1950s), cerebral palsy was probably the single largest element governing their life decisions.

Children with cerebal palsey

The image above shows children of all ages attending school. Click to enlarge.

They are probably from the Sir James Mitchell School, an education support school built to cater for children with cerebral palsy. These children would have received supports from both teachers and therapists through a combined teaching and training approach to their development. For these young children, their life would have revolved around the fact that they had cerebral palsy. Many of them would have lived away from home, and spent all day and all night with other children with cerebral palsy.
All of the treatment given at the Sir James Mitchell Spastic Centre is carefully rostered and coordinated under the jurisdiction of the Medical Superintendent. Occupational physiotherapists and speech therapists took note of their patients and the treatment required before the children arrive.