femme fatale photo in vintage veiled hat in an old asylum
in the basement of an old asylum, now a home for people with developmental disabilities

It's interesting and sad to me that the idea of life in an asylum has become trendy. I wonder when that happened.  If they saw electroshock equipment like I did, befriended the people who were abandoned by their families like I did...really seen it from the inside as the patients did,. I think they would change their minds. People think that the 50's were a perfect time of gingham dresses and happy families and jello salads but take a look at the innocent people with developmental disabilities that society of that time left behind....

vintage seamed stockings and 1940's dress in an old asylum
in the main hall of the old asylum. This floor was once used as patient rooms, now administration offices

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and this is a topic very dear to my heart. When I'm not blogging and being all vintage fabulous, I am a support staff for people with developmental disabilities.

 I drive them home from work and help them prepare meals. I pass their meds, help with chores and we laugh and tease each other. We go out to movies or for ice cream or to the mall. At home, I remind them to do their laundry and chores.  At bed time, I make sure they are comfortable and happy and tell them to have a good day tomorrow.  We have training to properly care for these people, to support them through good days and bad. We respect them and treat them the way that they deserve. But this wasn't always the way.

1950s nurse using electroshock therapy in an asylum
"11/20/1951: Modern methods of electro-convulsive therapy, used to shorten periods of depression, are applied here to patient "Abbe" who has been committed to a mental hospital for emotional stress."

Quite recently, people with developmental disabilities were abandoned in an institution where they were heavily drugged, abused and neglected. Electroshock therapy, ice baths, experimental medicine....those things really did happen.  Before my current place of employment, I worked at a place that prior to 1963 was called an "Asylum for the Epileptic and Feeble Minded"  I touched an old electroshock therapy machine from 50ish years ago stored away in the attic. I went into a tiny room with a hole towards the ceiling to shove food through and sat on the floor. I peeked through a key hole and saw a padded room with a bed with restraints.

 I was friends with a beautiful old woman who was dumped off on the steps because her parents couldn't take care of a deaf child. Another woman told me about how she was so heavily drugged when she arrived there (in the 60's) that she couldn't walk or see clearly. These places included ages from children to the elderly with various mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. Dangerous patients without proper diagnosis and medication were mixed in with people with autism or mental retardation. Doctors of the time didn't understand disabilities so when these people had a behavioral outburst that could have been helped by an understanding, kind person to talk to, they were locked up or tied to their beds and drugged.

Today, that old asylum that I worked at is a home for people with developmental disabilities. The people are well cared for, loved and respected. They have their own bedrooms and belongings and freedoms. Some have families that come visit them and they have opportunities to have jobs, day programs, hobbies and their quality of life is put first. Staff are trained to help them in their times of extra needed behavioral support.

vintage thread spools from the attic of an old asylum
wooden spools from the attic- the ladies used to love to make quilts when they were younger. Although I sew all the time, I keep these spools just as the ladies left them. 

I am thankful to live in today's world where we understand illness and disabilities and that we have laws in place to protect people. Sadly, abuse and neglect still happens but now, people with developmental disabilities have a lot of people working as their advocates to see that they are treated with dignity and respect and that they have rights.

1960s patient at a mental institution
Photograph by Richard Avedon. Mental Institution #21, East Louisiana State Mental Hospital, 1963

I worked at that place as a cook for the day program for a few years before quitting my job to stay home and have a family. Leaving those people that I loved was one of the hardest things I have ever done. They made me laugh and drove me crazy and they taught me these things:

People who use wheelchairs are wonderful dancers
People who cannot speak tell amazing stories
People who cannot hear understand music and voices
People who cannot see have a view of the world that we could never even imagine

All of these people have hearts.

They see what you do. They hear what you say. They feel.
So make them feel wanted, appreciated, valued and loved.

Forever Young by Camil Tulcan
Forever young by Camil Tulcan