Pretty soon they might be running around "raising awareness" of the fact that half of all children are below average, as one reader suggested.
There's an unstated assumption behind the hysteria: that children used to be completely healthy before the 1990s, or at least early in the 20th century; and that except for the relative few with some known genetic mutations, cognitively disabled children did not exist for the most part.
This, of course, is not true. But what's more, hysteria about cognitive disability is not new either. I first realized this when I saw a picture of a 1926 American Eugenics movement exhibit over at autistics.org. It reads:
Every 48 seconds a person is born in the United States who will never grow up mentally beyond that stage of a normal 8 year old boy or girl.
Every 16 seconds a person is born in the United States.
Clearly they were claiming that 1 out of 3 persons born in the United States in 1926 had a significant developmental disability. I have reasons to suspect this stat was a fabrication or an exaggeration by the American Eugenics movement. But it's not like modern organizations do not make up stats or repeat unsourced stats in order to push their agendas.
There is more reliable data out there. Let's take a 1930 study review by Raymond Barnard on the prevalence of what he calls "speech defects". He reported that careful studies at the time were giving a prevalence of about 5% to 8% of the school population.
This is completely in line with modern studies such as Silva et al. (1987), Wong et al. (1992), and Shriberg et al. (1999). (A possible caveat is that we might be doing a bit of a comparison of apples to oranges between definitions of speech impairments).
There is also some data on institutionalization from the California State Mental Hygene Survey of 1930. It tells us that there were 14,451 persons in state hospitals for the insane, with a total institutional population of 25,643. The article also gives us the population of the state in 1925: 4.2 million. So about 61 of 10,000 persons in the state were institutionalized.
I haven't found data that could be used for a fair comparison. But let's look at California DDS data from Q4 2006. The total number of CDDS clients who live either in an Institutional Care Facility or a Nursing Facility is 8,777. If we take all clients who do not live independently or with a parent, that comes to a total of 38,216 persons. That is 11.3 of 10,000 persons in the state, or about a fifth of the total institutionalized population in the late 1920s. I should note that not all or even most persons living in mental hospitals or institutions in California are necessarily registered with CDDS, but the data point is interesting nevertheless.
Those are some hard numbers I have found. If you instead prefer stories about what friends claim to remember from 20 or 30 years ago, this is definitely not the blog for you.