Bill was born in 1956 with Down syndrome. When he was 2½, my parents took him to what was then known as the Ontario Hospital School at Smiths Falls. We visited him every month as a family, but he never came home again.
My parents, and thousands of others like them, bought into the promise that the institution would be Bill’s best chance for progress and happiness, a place where he could live a safe and protected life with people they euphemistically called “his own kind”.
In the 1950s, Bill was barred by law from the public schools – his IQ was too low – so my parents saw the “school” part of the hospital school as a plus. The “hospital” part had greater appeal: like many others with Down syndrome, Bill had a heart condition and other health problems. For the rest of their lives, my parents repeated the same hopeful assertion so often it became a family mantra of sorts: “Sending Bill to Smiths Falls was the best thing we could have done for him.”
How wrong they were.
Read more in the Ottawa Citizen.
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