I got shaken up while reading the assigned chapters of “NeuroTribes : The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” this week. Right off the bat, I was filled with disgust. Chapter 9, which is entitled, “The Rain Man Effect” starts off by talking about a man named Bill. At a young age, Bill was seen as a risk to local community and he was shipped off to an asylum. It wasn’t the fact that Bill was sent away from his family that shook me up, it was the fact that the patients of the asylum were referred to as “ inmates” and that if a patient was to be sent home for the weekend, he or she would be “ paroled”. While reading this, I became utterly upset. Bill and his colleagues aren’t criminals. As far as I know, Bill wasn’t an arsonist, he wasn’t a murderer, in short, he’s not a criminal. As lovers of the English language, we all will attest to the fact that word’s matter. The old proverb of “sticks and stones may break my bones but word’s will never hurt me” is untrue, words do hurt and sometimes people can never heal from words that have been spoken to them. Later on in the chapter, we find out that Bill becomes a very successful man (He owns and manages a coffee shop on a university campus, he also inspires a movie). In other words, Bill wasn’t unintelligent. When the staff at the asylum called him and the other patients, “inmates”, he knew what the term usually referred to.
Not only did the asylum use criminal/ justice system jargon, it also is described like a prison. Silberman writes, “the high fences on the outskirts of the facility defined the horizons of his universe” ( Silberman, 356). Personally, if you tell me about an institution that has high fences surrounding it, I normally think of a prison or a jail, not a hospital. The patients at the asylum were literally stuck there, 24/7. There may have been grounds to wander but even then looking at the same thing over and over again gets boring after a short while. Just like real inmates, the patients at the asylum were stuck on the ground. These men and women were not criminals and therefore should not have been treated as such.
Fun Fact: Ironically while doing research, I found out that the asylum and the grounds of the asylum that Bill went to (The Faribault State School for the Feebleminded and Epileptic) is currently used as a state prison (Minnesota Department of Corrections).
To make matters even worse, Bill wasn’t treated like a human either. It is safe to say, that he was treated like a convict. Silberman writes, “He had never been taught how to tell time or handle money, and had never received proper dental care” ( Silberman, 356). According to the Minnesota History Center, one of the reasons why Faribault was established was to train patients in order for them to have a normal life (State Hospitals: Historical Patient Records: Faribault State School & Hospital). If the asylum’s mission was to train their patients how to have a normal life then they would have taught their patients how to do the basic skills that most learn in elementary school.
The Faribault State School for the Feebleminded and Epileptic was a hospital not a prison. However, Bill’s experience at the hospital makes it seem more like a correctional facility then a place where people go to get better. It’s scary to know what Bill experienced probably wasn’t an atypical experience. Mental asylums around the country were probably just like Faribault.
“Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault .” Minnesota Department of
Corrections.Minnesota Department of Corrections, n.d. Web. 7
“Patient Records: Faribault State School & Hospital.” Minnesota History Center.
Minnesota History Center: Gale Family Library, n.d. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.
Rice County Historical Society, Fairbault. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.