Understanding Mental Challenges

John Down was born in 1828 in England. He was the youngest of seven children. As a young teen, he became an apprentice to his father and decided he wanted to follow a scientific career. When he was 18, he met a young girl who would become the catalyst for his life’s pursuit. She had facial features that stayed in his mind for a long time.

 The apprenticeship led to a pursuit of a career in medicine. He decided to work for a doctor where he got experience at low-level medical practices. When he was 25, his father died and this spurred him to begin training at a hospital to become a doctor.

 After graduation, he became a Medical Superintendent at an asylum. The asylum was a horrible place where physical abuse was rampant. The facility was dirty, and no opportunities were given for patients to develop skills. John and his wife transformed the facility into one where patients were treated with dignity and developed to the fullest extent of their abilities.

 John studied different types of developmental challenges of the patients in his asylum. One of those bears his name today: Down Syndrome. In the process of his study of developmental challenges, he was able to dispel the popular belief at the time that different races came from different species.

 Dr. Down was a supporter of education for women up through college. At the time it was thought the more educated a woman became, the more likely they were to produce mentally deficient children. When he requested that his wife be paid for her work with him, he was denied. He left the hospital as a result and set up his own practice in his home.

 While he challenged the accepted medical practices, he was accepted for his beliefs. He changed how people viewed children who were born with challenges.

 Just imagine the insights we gained from one person’s professional life. We learned that all of us are of one species. We began to dispel the myth that women who go to college would bear children with mental challenges. And we began to understand the treatment of those with mental challenges.

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“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua Marine (Author)

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