Working Alongside People with Intellectual and Learning Disabilities

Standing in his shoes

Standing in my shoes

Hi mate how you doin'.  Good.  Yeh my name is Jo, how are you doin'. Ok then mate! Nice day isn’t it.

Jo is in his 50’s and he has 2 sisters and 2 brothers.  When Jo was born his parents were told that he had an intellectual disability (Down Syndrome) and they were told that there were homes for babies like Jo. At the time it was quite common that parents were told at a child’s birth that they did not have the skill to raise this baby.   Jo’s parents refused to put Jo into the institution and kept him at home.  Jo is the middle son in his family; he was a part of a close family unit. 

 

When Jo turned 5 his parents were unable to find a local school that Jo could go to.  His parents tried for a long time to send Jo to school with his sisters and brothers, the school just said they didn’t take kids like Jo.  Eventually Jo went to what were known as ‘opportunity schools’ and the focus was on life style development.  This meant that Jo has never been taught how to read and write. 

 

When Jo was a child and young man he was easy going and amiable and was well known around his local neighborhood.  He loved sport, played as a child in rugby at his school and local club.  He was often at the local footy and cricket games both of his brothers played these sports at school and local clubs when they were older.

 

When Jo was in his twenties, he went to live in a large residential institution after his parents were killed in an accident.  He looked for his family for years.


Where are my mum and dad?  I can’t find my family? I have lost them? Where are they?  Their gone…their gone… their gone…. What will I do?


Jo did not adapt to the change of moving into the institution.  He had no space that of his own. None of his things. He had lost his parents, siblings and contact with people he knew in the community.  He was in a deep state of grief.  He was scared.  He saw acts of violence that he had never seen before. Jo sat on his bed and began to bang his head and pick his skin until it bled.

 

No one had told him that his parents have been killed in a car accident.  At this point in time staff in institutions did not really think that people with intellectual difference were capable of the full range of human emotion.  So they did not think that he needed to know that his parents had died in an accident. 

 

Neither did they understand that Jo was experiencing grief from his removal from his home family and community, when he moved into the institution.  Grief and sadness, from loss of his parents and siblings and way of life, as well as fear about being in a strange and brutal place.  In fact they didn’t think much about Jo as a person he was just another person to wash feed and manage.

 

Jo at that time kept wondering what he had done wrong.  He was always waiting for him mum and dad to come and pick him up.

Why didn’t they come for me? I must have been very bad. I always tried to be good – why did they send me away?  Where is my family?

Jo sank deeply into depression and withdrew he lost most of the skills and capacities for independence in the first three months in the institution.

 

At that time none of his brothers and sisters knew where Jo had gone.  They had been placed in the care of an aunt and uncle – but they had not been willing to have Jo live with them too.  Jo stopped eating and lost a large amount of weight.  Eventually he was put in hospital and force fed when he was a bit better he was returned to the institution.  Over time Jo learnt to exist.  After he experienced a number of sexual assaults from workers and other men living in the same unit, Jo learnt how to keep himself safe.  He gained the reputation of being violent and having challenging behaviour, in the institution, but this behaviour stopped the abuse.

 

Some years later Jo went to work in an onsite sheltered workshop but mostly he stayed in the dormitory.  At times the staff would load every one onto a bus and they would be driven around for an afternoon.  It was a cold bleak place.  Jo lived in a room with a wooden framed bed, with 3 other people.  They did not talk to each other at all, and did what they were told by staff.

Mate that was a bad place!.  You had to be tough.  You wouldn’t want to go there, I tell you.  Terrible, terrible. I was a lamb when I went in there I used to let staff lead me around by the hand.  They did anything they wanted to me.  I didn’t know what my rights were back then.

Terrible things happened to me – I don’t want to think about them.  I had to get tough and I just kept to myself, stayed out of trouble; mate.   In that place you had nothing.  It makes me sad when I think about all those years just sitting in a room doin’ nothing.  What a waste.  I could have been out here with my brothers and sisters; you know.  Crap its crap. It was just not fair.

And that is where he stayed for the next 20 years until one day one of his sisters (Susan) found him.  She had been trying to find him for 5 years and no one would tell her what had happened to her older brother.  She went to the institution to see him.  When they met again no word could express the sorrow and gap between them.  Tears, no amount of tears could put the past right.

 

From that day on Jo’s live began to change.  Susan and Jo started to find out what they needed to do for Jo to move out of the institution and live in his own house.


Mate, when I saw my sister again I just cried.  She told me that mum and dad had been killed in an accident and that my other brothers and sister had gone to live with my aunt and uncle but they wouldn’t have me.

What am I, evil!  I was a good boy.  I loved my family.  That was cruel don’t you think mate.  Not to take me too ……..Why, I didn’t do anything wrong!!

Last week when I was walking down my street this bloke came up and started pushing me around.  Yelling, shouting punching me.   I gave him my phone and money, like he said.  He was mad he was.  I just gave it to him. 

What can you do?  My sister got really mad with me.  She says I should stand up to people and not let them get away with that.  But mate, what can I do.  If I hit him then I get in trouble.  I am not going to do that.  What can I do?  Nothin’, they are not going to take any notice of me.  She wants me to go to the police station and report it.  Do you think I should - will they help me?

 

WWILD Sexual Violence Prevention Program is funded by the Department of Communities, QLD. & the WWILD Victims of Crime Disability Training Program is funded by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, QLD

WWILD Phone: (07) 3262 9877 Email: info@wwild.org.au Address: 211 Hudson Road, WOOLOOWIN QLD 4030 Contact hours: Monday to Friday 8.30am - 4.30pm