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ss triple helix - summer 2012,  Downs, the history of a disability

Downs, the history of a disability

David Wright
Oxford University Press, 2011
£14.99, Hb, 256pp
ISBN 978 0 19956 793 5

David Wright is a Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal specialising in the history of medicine, disability, philosophy, social history and law. He outlines the history of Down's syndrome from medieval to modern times.

Wright is particularly interesting in his tracing of social attitudes which in the late 20th century led at first to 'normalisation', and la ter to community care when asylums were closed. In modern times, the consideration of human rights for Down's has risen. He traces the role of the Kennedy family in the USA who fostered special summer camps out of which evolved the Special Olympics. This raised the public profile of people with Down's and showed their achievements.

In an otherwise excellent account of the scientific findings, Wright does not mention the current research into dementia and the amyloid theory linked to the 21 chromosome. It would also have been interesting to have had some information on attitudes in developing countries where people with Down's are concealed at home as if they were a disgrace.

This is a very readable book with an extensive bibliography and glossary. The author has a sister with Down's who has married and lives independently with some support, and works in a sheltered workshop. As an historical account of changing attitudes this book is highly recommended.

Anthony Cole is the former Medical Director of the Lejeune clinic.

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