Developmental Disability: A Curse in the Ancient Age

A blessing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the world today is that the majority of the general population believes in keeping an open mind and their attitude towards disability guided by a tolerant and informed perspective. With the rise of technology, people are more aware than ever. Almost every country has organizations and laws that enable people with disabilities to lead respectful lives. A meaningful life wasn’t always the case, and the plight of disabled people only started to improve a few decades ago. It has taken people centuries to change their attitude towards the disabled and being a disabled person in the ancient era was perhaps the worst kind of curse.

The oldest historical evidence of the treatment of disabled people dates back to 7000 BC. C. and involved the application of massages, baths and herbal treatments that tried to cure intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is also evidence of the use of “magic” in attempts to rid a person of demonic possession. However, between 800 a. C. and 400 a. C., the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčtreating people for their disability was abandoned for the most part. With little regard for human life, ancient era cultures found it easier to simply kill anyone born with disabilities rather than trying to care for or cure them. Ancient Greek and Roman cultures valued perfection and beauty above all else. As a result, the most devious malpractices were inflicted on infants, children, and adults with developmental disabilities in these cultures.

Disabilities were not understood or tolerated, and even the most revered ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, had ordered, “As for the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” Aristotle’s recommendation led to perhaps one of the most perverse practices towards the disabled: abandoning disabled infants and children out in the cold and letting them die. It is hard to imagine the slow and painful deaths that thousands of babies and children must have suffered. Infanticide was widely carried out in Ancient Greece for decades in light of Aristotle’s decree.

In ancient Rome, disabled people were called “monstrum” and the birth of a disabled child was considered a bad omen. The Romans were allowed the freedom to sell, insult or kill their disabled children and disabled people often ended up as beggars or in court as a source of fun and entertainment.

Perhaps the first person to firmly state that developmental disabilities were not due to evil spirits but rather a medical illness that could be cured was the great Greek healer Hippocrates. Later, the Greek physician Sonarus opened the first such hospital, dedicated to treating people with mental and developmental disabilities.

People’s attitude began to change slowly, but nothing changed it as surely as religion. The rise of Christianity, in particular, taught the followers; LUKE 9:48 And he said to them, Whoever welcomes this child in my name, he welcomes me; and whoever receives me, he receives the one who sent me; for the smallest among you all will be great. (North Dakota).

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