Annie’s Coming Out (the book)

Annie's Coming OutI recently read the book Annie’s Coming Out and was challenged and educated and stirred. The book is about a young girl, Annie who was born in Australia in the mid ’60s, diagnosed with cerebral palsy/athetosis, and sentenced to a life in an institution for mentally retarded children.

To think how recently ago children with less-than-perfect bodies were nearly-across-the-board placed in institutions is harrowing. I know that there were still a few families that chose to keep their children at home, but most saw institutionalization as their only option. Most were told by doctors that the child would be better off in an institution. Once dropped off at the door of the institution, a lot of the children never saw their families again. Some only saw their families once or twice a year.

The book Annie’s Coming Out paints a pretty nasty picture of life in an institution — cruel treatment; starvation; no stimulation; no conversation; no touch; no music or toys; nurses and caregivers who didn’t care or understand; tiny, helpless lives stuck in a void and an emptiness and a cruelty by a bureaucracy and society that is blind to their own repulsive actions.

While our society today is not as quick to drop off a child with different abilities in an institution, it is a practice that still occurs certainly.  And I have heard that perhaps the living conditions in these institutions has not made a ton of improvement.  It is a sobering thought.

Thankfully for Annie and several other children who had spent their lives in the institution, a wonderful teacher came along and believed in stimulating them.  Rose, the gifted teacher, admits that she had no idea of how bright the children were before she started teaching them, but she saw it more as a right that they had to be spoken to and stimulated.

What follows is an amazing story of unlocking the communication of a few of these children.  These children who had never in their lives been able to communicate with another person were finally supported enough to be able to communicate to Rose.  What she learned was that some of these so-called mentally retarded children were extremely bright, able to learn to read and do complicated math and understand politics and law!

The power of communication is a great emphasis of the book.  For it is communication that made the difference for these children.  Communication brought life to them . . .  brought purpose for them . . . brought the ability to dream to them.

Rose’s efforts with and on behalf of the children were far from supported by the bureaucracy and the governmental authorities.  Society was so set on pushing these seemingly worthless children aside that they could not begin to accept the fact that they were perhaps intelligent beings.  Everyone in authority tried to shut Rose down and keep her from educating and communicating with these children.

Through the book, Rose grows close to Annie and to a couple of the other children.  She takes a couple of the children home for the weekends and exposes them to real life outside the bland walls of the institution for the first time in their lives.

And the second half or so of the book is the story of Annie’s legal battle to become free.  Annie wants more than anything to be free from the institution.  She endures much hardship and several court battles to basically earn the right to be human — the right to live her own life and to make decisions for herself.

The book is a pretty easy read, only about 250 pages.  And it is certainly eye-opening and telling.  I recommend it to anyone who loves or is interested in supporting someone with intellectual or physical disabilities.  You can find the book at Amazon.com here, but it is not really a widely-available book.

The book was later made into a movie.  Paul and I will watch it in the next couple of weeks and will let you know our thoughts on it.  Let me know in the comments if you read Annie’s Coming Out!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Audrey on January 4, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Sounds like a book I would love to read. Thanks. I will see if the inter-library loan can get it for me. Have you read Raymond’s Room?

    Reply

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