Bernard Carabello is a hero. If you are unfamiliar with Carabello, let me tell you a little bit about his story. Carabello was placed at Willowbrook State School in 1953 at the age of three-years-old. He ultimately stayed there for over 18 years. He has cerebral palsy, and was misdiagnosed by doctors as cognitively disabled. This led to his placement at Willowbrook, a state school for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Carabello was neglected and abused while at Willowbrook. He met Geraldo Rivera in the early 1970s through an ex-Willowbrook physician who wanted to get the truth out to the public about the institution. Carabello snuck off-grounds to meet with Rivera, and was ultimately featured on Rivera’s investigative report about Willowbrook. Following this interview, Carabello was threatened by staff to tell them what he told Rivera, and he was instrumental in the school’s ultimate closure. Carabello has been called the father of the self-advocacy movement. He is a key-note speaker and consultant. I appreciate Carabello for what he did for “our” children, which includes those with Down syndrome. He spoke out and gave those placed at Willowbrook a voice. Thank you, Bernard Carabello. Please watch this great man’s story.
The unfortunate thing is that I can’t just leave this post on a good positive note, celebrating an inspirational figure. It kills me that I have to now say more. Why can’t Carabello’s work be enough? No, more still needs to be done. To illustrate this sad point, I share a very sad case. No, this did not happen, years and years ago. I am not going to talk about a time from the past or another country. The date starts in 2002 and spans for six years. And this occurred right here in the United States. In 2002 there was a violent incident by a staff, Kevin Miller, at Denton State School for the cognitively disabled in Texas. Miller brutally beat a resident who was placed at Denton. As a result of this assault, Hasbeeb Chishty, suffered extensive injuries and became physically disabled. In addition, Chishty almost died. It took two-and-a-half years before they found out that it was Miller who was responsible. He ultimately confessed. The school, however, spent considerable time maintaining that these injuries were because of a seat belt – consider this, Chishty was found in bed soaking in his own blood and urine. For six months, he was in intensive care with massive internal injuries, and a bruise in the shape of a footprint was found near Chishty's groin. Does this sound even remotely like an incident caused by a seat belt? Furthermore, the family had to leave Chishty in the same institution for six more years until the State of Texas agreed to pay for his care at home. Imagine the fear of leaving your child in a place where he almost died because you had no other options. His family didn’t have the resources they needed to care for him – especially now considering the injuries caused by Miller. Now Chishty is home, but problems continue because the State’s care within the home is considered by the family as inconsistent. Think maybe this is an isolated incident? The Dallas Observer reviewed more than 800 pages of disciplinary records covering 11 state schools in Texas and found that over the last five years there is a continued pattern of abuse and neglect. This is a story from Geraldo Rivera on Chishty’s situation prior to his move home.
Bottom line - we need all the Bernard Carabellos,the Hasbeeb Chishtys, and people who love them to speak up and out. This is just shameful. We can’t close our eyes to how individuals with cognitive disabilities are treated. Denial is not acceptable. I just look into the face of Quinn and I know that this isn’t an option for me anymore. Please do the same.
This blog is about our journey raising three bright, gorgeous kids (Riley, Aidan, and Quinn). Miss Quinny happens to have an extra 21st chromosome (Down syndrome) along with Infantile Spasms (West syndrome) and Stereotypic Movement Disorder. This blog is for awareness and advocacy for families with children with special needs.