Conventional treatment of the mentally handicapped swings to one of two extremes: incarceration or the care of relatives. Anthroposophical medicine seems to provide a more humane and beneficial alternative.
Founded by Austrian mystic and philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), anthroposophical medicine reflects his belief that man is a spiritual and whole being. It is but one of many disciplines including agriculture, education, pharmaceutics and architecture influenced by Steiner.
There is a general introduction to anthroposophical medicine for the layperson (Anthroposophical Medicine by Evans & Rodger, Harper Collins, 1992, £9.99) and many technical papers have evaluated its effects in medicine and medical care. These include the GP and anthroposophical medicine (Scand J Soc Med, Mar 1992, 20(1): 55-60); and the health and nutritional status of infants fed under the anthroposophical regimen (Tijdschr Kindergeneekd, Dec 1985, 53(6): 201-208).
Anthroposophy and its effects on the mentally handicapped have also been well researched and the benefits measured. Steiner turned to the care of the mentally handicapped in 1924, one year before his death, with particular emphasis on children. He maintained that a physically handicapped person is capable of developing and improving all areas of his life, even his physical disabilities. He stressed as important proper diet, exercise, meaningful manual work, crafts, art, music, varied social contacts and religious activity. He called the approach Curative Education.
His beliefs were developed and put into practice by a Viennese pediatrician Karl Koenig, who set up the first Curative Education community school for handicapped children on the Camphill Estate in Scotland during the Second World War (Ronald E Kotzsch, East West Natural Health, Jan-Feb 1992, 22(1): 66-72).
In 1954, Koenig developed the theory further with the creation of the anthroposophical village community where former pupils as adults could live and work alongside others.
Since those early days, the Camphill project has been expanded into 73 villages around the world. They are communities which involve all residents in farming, craft work, worship, village government, contact with nature and communal celebrations.
Their achievements have been researched in several papers (Except Childr, Feb 1978, 44(5): 322-330; and Muenchener Med Wochenschr, 16 Jun 1967, 109 (24): 1316-1319).
The latter paper, prepared by Dorothea Ahrens, concludes by stating that "the undeniable, demonstrable results, accomplished by the treatment of severely disabled children, make this educational approach a success".
This favourable view is backed up by a seven year study of the 386 children then at Camphill. It showed that 50 per cent of Down's children showed significant improvement, and 13 per cent of those were rehabilitated; 49 per cent with behavioural disturbance were rehabilitated; that 41 per cent of those with motor handicaps showed major improvement, as did 40 per cent of those with emotional disorders.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homeopath and osteopath.