Plea To Aid Mentally Ill, Retarded

Posted: May 06, 1990

Doctors told Kathleen Swanson that her retarded son would never walk or talk.

They were wrong.

Today, at 5, Ryan walks, swims and is beginning to talk. He soon will be ready to attend special-education classes at a regular school.

His mother credits his progress to a special program for preschoolers in Michigan - and, later, a similar program in Chester County - that helped Ryan learn simple skills such as crawling and standing.

Without the extra help, said Swanson, who now lives in Uwchlan Township, Ryan "wouldn't have walked. He wouldn't have probably talked like he's talking. He would never have been able to be in a traditional classroom setting."

Swanson spoke Thursday at a legislative breakfast meeting sponsored by the county's Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. She asked the county's legislative delegation to make early-intervention programs for retarded children a requirement in Pennsylvania. These programs are not now mandated, and some children are unable to get in.

The meeting at the West Chester Inn was attended by about 100 advocates for the mentally ill and mentally retarded, people who operate programs for those two groups and lawmakers.

As is the tradition at such gatherings, advocates asked legislators for money to improve services and legislators told them that money was tight.

Catherine Adler, a member of the Chester County Social Support Gathering, a group for mental health clients, said people with mental illnesses badly needed drop-in centers run by and for clients.

Betty Wilder, a member of the Chester County Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a group of family members of people with mental illnesses, told lawmakers they could help people who used a broad spectrum of human services programs by encouraging the development of affordable housing.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if Chester County could lead Pennsylvania in creating the right kind of low-cost housing?" she said.

She also said the mentally ill needed more programs to develop vocational and social skills.

Wilder also talked of her daughter, who died last Christmas. Nance had had schizophrenia for 27 years and had been hospitalized many times. "I remember her for her loving kindness and generosity, which was her true self, just as we should recognize the true selves of our persons with mental illness, not their ill symptoms," Wilder said.

The need for more money to pay employees during a labor shortage was the theme of John Eirdosh's speech.

"We have to stop competing with fast-food restaurants for our staff," said Eirdosh, chairman of the Chester County Providers of Service Organization.

Republican lawmakers were sympathetic, but noncommittal.

"We really don't have a lot of money to work with," said Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, adding that the county's delegation was "very sensitive" to the needs of mental health and mental retardation.

Rep. Joseph Pitts said state revenue already was $150,000 below projection. The state is holding back all of its checks for 40 days to ease its cash-flow problems.

"We do face a serious situation this year," he said. "We cannot print money like the federal government."

Rep. Peter Vroon told the group to continue its lobbying despite the discouraging budget situation.

"We say to you, do not stop increasing your pressure," he said. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

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