Associations of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children*

By WOODHULL HAY, Secretary
National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children

The organizational movement of parents with mentally retarded children to group together in associations for the purpose of being able better  collectively to improve the welfare of their children began in the early 1930’s.  During the postwar period it expanded widely so that in 1951 there were more than 125 such groups in the United States and Canada, enrolling approximately 13,000 active members as well as several thousand others on an associate basis.  Among the reasons contributing to this growth these may be given:  (1) evidence that institutions operating under state appropriations are limited in what they can do for the children;  (2)  increasing awareness that the usual regular public school programs are unsuited for such children;  (3)  more general dissemination of knowledge of advances in technologies relating to mental retardation;  (4)  rise of questioning and challenge of the validity of the finality implicit in the words:  “Nothing can be done for your child”;  (5)  desire of parents to learn what more can be done for these children and to pursue projects in their behalf;  (6)  strengthening conviction that the responsibility is social – that, as funds are raised and appropriated for the benefit of the physically handicapped, money should be provided for building a fuller life also for the mentally handicapped;  and (7)  realization that it is not enough spiritually just to care for one’s own child.

The activities of these associations cover a wide range, being influenced by needs and reflecting available facilities.  Some organizations, interested in improving institutions, seek larger appropriations so that there will be adequate staffs and equipment, at the same time augmenting current funds by donations and doing many little things that bring pleasure to the children.  Others devote their efforts to providing various services for children at home or in schools; there are clinics for diagnosis, therapy, and guidance; play and therapy groups;  classes for children ineligible for enrollment in public schools;  social clubs;  sheltered workshops;  vocational training centers;  contacts for placement in industry;  and educational classes for parents.  Funds have been created to establish permanent homes or communities.  In several states, with the sponsorship of parent associations bills have been enacted providing local aid for educating mentally retarded children.  In another, the president of the state parent group was appointed by the government on a statutory commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the problem of mental retardation in the state.

The associations are nonprofit and except in a few instances, membership is open to all interested persons.  Members participate in the activities; regular meetings are held, often with speakers professional in the field of mental retardation.  Through discussions thus afforded, by parents come to accept the underlying problems as general, of broad community interest and detached from their emotional and subjective elements, a progressions engendering salutary effects on understanding their own children.  Each association plans and pursues its projects, supplementing them in many cases by issuing news bulletins and pamphlets and fostering public education.

To further the common objectives of these groups the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children was formed in September 1950.  Its purposes embrace all such children wherever they may be located and of all ages.  It serves as a clearinghouse of information, sponsors research and the training of personnel, acts as liaison with other bodies in this field, and interprets the movement on a national level.

*This article was written for, and copyrighted by, the Encyclopedia Americana, Chicago and New York, 1952 edition.  It is reproduced with the permission of the publishers for members of the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children.

Distributed by:  National Association for Retarded Children
129 East 52nd Street, New York 22, New York