In Mind - a written monument to all people with intellectual disability. (Items 41 to 50)

50 pieces of poetry and short prose by Peter Limbrick

This is collection of short pieces about people of all ages who have learning disabilities and about the conditions they experience in any country. The collection spans the period from the1970s, co-inciding with the gradual closure of some of the big 'mental handicap hospitals' in the UK.

The poetry and prose pieces, written in a variety of voices, are offered as a monument to adults and children who have lived and died or are living now in inhuman situations. The first piece, ‘Letter’, is from an imaginary hospital manager to a national newspaper. It sets the context for this In Mind collection.

Some poems mention One-to-One and the One-to-One book. This was a 1970’s project in the USA and then UK to raise awareness of adults and children condemned to institutions.

Some of Peter's other poems are published in recent issues of Scintilla, the journal of literary criticism, prose and new poetry in the metaphysical tradition.

Please contact Peter if you would like to use one or more of these pieces in some way.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


41. Play

Amal stayed in hospital for several weeks after birth until

well enough to go home. Doctors needed to run tests,

establish medication for his fits and resolve the issue of

milk going into his lungs.

When they took him home, his parents were given

detailed instructions about what to do, day or night, if they

saw any of the many listed danger signs. Parents were

forewarned of significant learning difficulties.

At home, parents felt their role was to nurse their little

invalid. They were caring, nervous and watchful.

After about nine months a teacher came along to help.

While talking to Amal’s parents and listening to their

story, she lifted him from his beanbag and propped him

between her knees so he was sitting on the floor against

her. He had never sat like this, said his mother.

While the conversation continued, the teacher improvised

a tea-tray in front of Amal over his legs. She asked for one

of his toys and learned that they were all in a box upstairs

in a wardrobe because he had not shown interest in any of


The box was brought down and the teacher put a ball on

the tray and one of his hands near it. He knocked the ball.

An accident? She replaced the ball and he knocked it again,

and then again.

Amal was playing!

Both parents were delighted because he had not done

anything like this before.

The teacher had used only basic skills on this first visit but

the parents felt their little patient had become a child.

Now they could be a proper family.


42. Mother Found Guilty

We need to talk to you about your baby.

We could not do everything we wanted to do in

the examination because he was crying so much.

But we think we have the picture now and, I have

to say, it is as we expected.

His weight and growth are both well below what

they should be, but we appreciate feeding is

difficult because of his swallowing problems. He is

becoming a bit stiffer than he was last year as we

told you he would.

To answer your questions about the fits, they will

continue now that they have started. The

medication we can put him on today might help

control them. Time will tell. His reflexes are

immature. We have checked his eyes and ears as

best we can in the circumstances. We think he can

hear and see but we can’t be sure how much. You

should assume he can understand very little of

what is going on around him. Altogether, it is not a

very promising picture.

If you remember, when he was ready to be

discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit

we tried to explain to you that the difficult birth

had starved him of oxygen and caused brain

damage. We told you then he would not develop

normally and what we have seen today has

confirmed all of that.

You young mums always think you know best, that

you know more than the doctors. We cannot

agree with you about the progress you think you

have seen. His smiles are not proper smiles and we

do not think he stops crying just because your

husband has come home from work. There is

probably another reason.

It is good you are singing to him and playing those

games you have told us about, but please do not

imagine he is taking them in like a normal baby

would. We told you then you could leave the baby

in hospital but you would not hear of it. You didn’t

want to believe any of the things we were telling

you about what the future would hold. I have to go

to a meeting now. We have given you much more

time than we give the other mothers.

I will get someone to bring you a cup of tea. If you

decide you want to leave the baby with us, just let

the nurse know.


43. Prejudice

We both thought her baby was beautiful.

How can a baby not be beautiful?

When the suspected Down’s Syndrome

diagnosis was confirmed

the baby was still beautiful.

Now she had to sort out her beliefs.

She told me, she had always had only

negative thoughts about people

she saw in the street who had the


From now on, she knew, she would not

have that prejudice.

Or, at least,

when she saw negative thoughts arising

she would be able to deal with them.


44. Tears

Come on, mum and dad, there’s time

to show you round before your long journey home.

Shall I push you, Mary-Ann?


We are such a happy school.

The children love it and never want to go home.

Why so sad, Mary-Ann?


Here’s the bedroom for the young ones.

They’ll be so excited to have a new girl tonight.

Ten new friends, Mary-Ann!


We are just one big family.

Staff will be real mothers and fathers for you.

A home from home, Mary-Ann!


Its bath time now for the juniors.

Give mum and dad a kiss. They’ve a long drive home.

Where’s your smile, Mary-Ann?


They’ll be back before you know it.

In a month or two when you are properly settled in.

Why the tears, Mary-Ann?


45. Garden

Her best time was sitting in the garden with Lenny on

a warm afternoon. Only a small garden with a patch

of grass and a short path to the tumbling greenhouse.

She and Lenny were devoted to each other, she took

great care of him. Lenny was her third child coming

after a gap of fifteen years. The older siblings had

moved away but stayed in touch. On a warm day she

would get her jobs done in the morning, promising

him they would go out into the garden after lunch.

Lenny’s lunch would be from the short list of things

he most liked, she would help him eat it with all care

and patience, a clean tea towel under his chin for

dribbles and bits that escaped his mouth.

Getting into the garden was a difficult manoeuvre

requiring two stages. There were steps and a corner

to negotiate, not easy at her age with a growing

young man in a wheelchair. She would push Lenny

out onto the grass and then go back into the kitchen

for his tray, drink and drawing things. Ever since

Lenny had been too small for a proper wheelchair he

had loved to draw. There were thick wax crayons

and tape to fix the paper to the tray. When each

piece was finished she looked for bits of green that

she would call a tree or a circle with lines coming

from it that she would call a man. Lenny liked this

approval of his efforts - all part of the afternoon’s

gentle pleasure. She loved this quiet time. It was an

escape. It was life-affirming. Her god was looking

down into the garden and smiling.

Most of the time, though, there was something to

worry about; his stomach upsets, the leg operation

he might need. The biggest worry was about what

would happen to Lenny when she died. This was too

big and frightening to talk about with anyone. Kind

people had tried to discuss it, suggesting Lenny

could start going to some sort of home on occasions so

that, when the worst came to the worst, he would

have somewhere familiar to go, somewhere with

people who knew him.

This idea was always rejected. No one could ever

look after her son as well as she could. This was her

job and hers alone. The idea of him going away was

unthinkable. Years later Lenny was able to draw a

man with a head, body, two sticks for arms and two

for legs. But this was after she had died.


46. Clever

Being clever or


or smart are valued

qualities in children

at school and in all

of us

in our daily life and


Being not clever, not

bright, not smart is

never valued.

On the scale


clever and not


it is hard to think of

neutral words

before getting into

the strongly negative

dull, dim, thick,




It seems we have

built prejudice in to

the English language.



47. Away to School

In time, I lost all certainty about what the residential school

was for, about the purpose it served for children, families and


When I joined the school as a teacher, I understood it was

providing very specialist education for a group of exceptional

children who were part of a very small national population.

Because of the rarity of these children, it would be

uneconomic for local education authorities to cater for them.

A small number of residential schools taking children from

across the country made unarguable economic sense.

This was my starting point.

Eventually, I realised the school’s purpose was to give term-

time homes to children of desperate families.

The children were certainly exceptional; all used wheelchairs,

nearly all were incontinent, only one or two could speak,

most had feeding problems, epileptic fits were common. All

were harder to manage as they neared adolescence.

It became obvious that the reason for admission was

recognition by their local council that a child’s parents were at

their wit’s end.

Education was a legal requirement but it was not the main

reason for the child being sent away from home.


Merryn’s mother held my original view about the purpose of

the residential school. She was a single parent totally attached

in every way to her four-year-old daughter.

She wanted the best education possible to give her child

maximum opportunities to overcome her disabilities and have

the best possible start in life.

For this she made the extremely difficult sacrifice of sending

Merryn to school nearly two hundred miles away.

When her daughter died just over a year later, she drove up

with a large cardboard box to take Merryn home for her



48. Control

I feel such deep anger when I look at Mrs Donohue.

We have to call her Mrs Donohue because Mary would be much

too familiar for us lowly Adult Day Centre staff to call an ex-

headmistress. Just like we have to call Mick Michael when she is


And she is around all the time now since she started staying at the

Centre with Mick instead of just dropping him off like she used to.

‘Just want to help out’, she said, but we all know it is so she can

keep an eye on Mick and watch what we are letting him get up to.

The best times were when Mick came on the Centre bus. She put

a stop to that when she found out he always sat next to Mavis.

They had a great time together.

Mrs D. did not approve of that. No way was her beloved Michael

going to have a girlfriend!

Then she announced ‘Michael does not want to be in the

pantomime anymore’, when she realised his Robin Hood had to

kiss Mavis’ Maid Marion in the finale. We tried to talk to him

about it but she hovered over him, putting her words into his


All of this was discussed at our last staff meeting. We all agreed

Mrs D. was terrified of the prospect of her son wanting to sleep

with Mavis. He was still her little boy and sexual activity with

Mavis or anyone else was definitely off the agenda.

Someone made the point that Mrs D. was widowed and Mick was

her only child, that she might be lonely and unable to endure long

days on her own while Mick was at the Centre or unable to

contemplate life without him if he should opt to live somewhere


It was agreed one of us should try to talk to her about all of this.

We felt we had a clear duty because Mick wasn’t enjoying himself

anymore at the Centre. It would not be an easy conversation.

And she might decide to stop Mick coming altogether.


49. Patience

A new game for little Hana,

clapping hands to ask for more.

In the game she is picked up,

spun round, turned over, set down.

She is shown how to clap

when she wants it again,

learning to take control

of one small part of her world.

Being totally blind and deaf,

it will take some time.


Mark, thirty, rescued from an

institution, is welcomed into

a small caring community.

He comes with a habit of

screaming when approached.

In this new home,

respected, not forced, given

choices he can manage,

this habit will surely fade but

it will take some time.


50. In Mind

Countless people have

lived and died,

are now living and dying,

in institutions around the


Babies, children, adults, old


Even outside those


intellectual disability,

mental handicap,

being simple or defective

can mean a tough

existence with everything

to be afraid of

- a hard life struggling

without respect or


dependent entirely on the

kindness of others,

having no way to make

hopes and dreams come


My fellow human beings,

I must keep them in mind.




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