Kanner, more than anyone else, has called our attention to the gradual but slow and halting emergence of compassion and concern on the part of churchmen, philosophers, philanthropists, physicians, and politicians toward the mentally retarded.
It may come as a surprise to learn that it was during the "enlightenment" and "reform" of the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries that the treatment of mental defectives was at its worst. It was during this period that many of them became victims of the prevailing demonism. Martin Luther referred to the feeble-minded as godless and reported this occurrence in one of his Table Talks:1
Eight years ago, there was one in Dessau whom I, Martinus Luther, saw and grappled with. He was twelve years old, had the use of his eyes and all his senses, so that one might think he was a normal child. But he did nothing but gorge himself as much as four peasants or threshers. He ate, defecated, and drooled and, if anyone tackled him, he screamed. If things didn't go well, he wept. So I said to the Prince of Anhalt: "If I were the Prince, I should take the child to the Moldau River which flows near Dessau and drown him." But the Prince of Anhalt and the Prince of Saxony, who happened to be present, refused to follow my advice. Thereupon I said; "Well, then the Christians shall order the Lord's Prayer to be said in church and pray that the dear Lord take the Devil away." This was done daily in Dessau and the changeling died in the following year.
- Copyright © 1968 by the American Academy of Pediatrics