Let’s stop ignoring the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill among us … please

Many people are sure that mentally ill people are dangerous. If they don’t take their meds regularly and are having a psychotic attack, they need to be under supervision, but most of the time, they are gentle, loving people – many of them nicer than you or me.

At least 3% of the babies born in Israel, enter this world with developmental difficulties. In some sectors of our population the numbers are higher.

Two thirds of people questioned on the subject of mental illness and disabilities said that they had been exposed to individuals with these difficulties. Seventy percent believe that the cause is genetic; although in reality, only 20-30% of those disabilities are genetic in nature. Seventy-five percent of those asked believed that with proper treatment, those individuals could contribute to their communites.

Many felt that handicapped people should be cared for at home, while the rest felt that institutions were better suited to them. Many Ultra-Orthodox people I spoke to insisted that home care was better but I discovered that in reality, they tend to seek an arrangement outside of their own homes. I discovered that this tendency was due to the stigma attached to someone with any kind of disability in this sector of our population. Someone suffering from a mental illness or a developmental disability will the spoil the chances of a successful marriage match for their other marriageable aged children.

In the Arab Sector, only forty-two percent believe that a special needs child should be cared for at home. But, in reality, most of athese children do grow up at home.

Some sixty percent of those with mental disabilities have been abused at home or in the community at some point in their lives.

Seventy-four percent of people interviewed supported the establishment of a hostel for these individuals in their neighborhood, but only fifty-one percent were willing to allow the establishment of this kind of building in their own street.

Over eighty percent of the respondents believe that expectant mothers should undergo testing to prevent them from giving birth to a child with a disability, while the Ultra-Orthodox community believe that when a disabled child is born, every effort should be made to save his/her life.

Our educators should make every effort to reduce the public’s anxiety with regard to their children learning and/or playing with a developmentally disabled child. These children need someone to protect their rights too.

I found a wonderful program in the United States, called Breaking the Silence; a detailed program, ready to be introduced into schools, that addresses this very problem. In the USA it is working well. I hope in time that our Ministry of Education will consider it more carefully that they did the first time that my friend and I tried to do so.


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