As a 10 year old growing up in a violent home, Dr Gregory Smith believed he was going to visit an aunt when he was surrendered to St Patricks Orphanage in Armidale, where he experienced abuse, neglect and isolation.
At 14, he entered juvenile detention, spending the next four years in and out of institutions which gave him very few life skills, and two diagnoses that would shape much of his life.
Dr Smith was diagnosed as having “very low intelligence”, and also as a sociopath.
Many children who lived in institutional care were given diagnoses that impacted their lives significantly, and were reported as being of low intelligence. In making decisions about the capabilities of these children, their standard of living, abuse, neglect, and trauma was rarely considered. These diagnoses have in turn caused trauma and harm, with traumatised children carrying the shame of being called a ‘moron’ or ‘feeble-minded’ throughout their lives.
I never thought I was dumb. Everyone told me I was, but I didn’t think I was
After rough sleeping for many years, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and believing the diagnoses of his youth, Dr Smith attended TAFE where he developed an interest in sociology. His research introduced him to the systemic abuse in Australia’s care system, the availability of free counselling for people who grew up in care, and an understanding of himself as part of a much bigger group that he now advocates for – Forgotten Australians, or Care Leavers.
Just knowing they existed became cathartic in itself
Dr Smith has gone on to achieve a PhD in sociology, and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia. He was featured on Australian Story recently, and you can watch it here: