Their parents were made to feel ashamed and stigmatized, with many retreating into their houses, frightened and lonely.
But, 60 years ago today, 10 brave parents dared to stick their heads above the parapet and demand better for their offspring.
They advertised a public meeting in Glasgow city centre and more than 300 like-minded parents packed into the Bath Street venue on April 9, 1954.
The Scottish Association of Parents of Handicapped Children was born.
And now, six decades on, the charity, now called Enable Scotland, is celebrating its work with a party in the building where that first meeting took place.
"We want to celebrate all the small things that people have that have made a difference," explains Peter Scott, chief executive officer for Enable Scotland.
He has been with the charity for nine years and has seen some of its greatest achievements in changing policy and attitudes to people with learning disabilities in Scotland.
Mr Scott said: "Although the big high-profile policy and process developments are important, in our 60th year I would like us to recognise all the small things our members have done, the individual moments of friendship and support that one family has shown to another to help them cope in difficult circumstances."
A total of 60 people who have shaped the charity over the decades will gather today, at The ABode Arthouse Hotel, to cele-brate Enable's diamond anniversary.
Young ambassadors will talk about their lives and share their hopes for the future and a piper wearing a special Enable Scotland diamond anniversary tartan will entertain guests.
JACQUELINE Keenan and Anne Trail, daughters of founding members Cathy Shapter and Jim Henderson, will cut the official birthday cake.
Since 1954, the charity has grown from 300 parents to 4500 members operating 44 branches in Scotland.
Back then, parents of children with a learning disability were made to feel ashamed and were often forced to hide themselves and their child away. There were few services and parents were left to cope on their own.
Their children were not allowed to go to school or live independently and had no chance to get a job or even make friendships in many cases.
But, over the years, Enable Scotland has campaigned to transform the lives of thousands of young people with learning disabilities and their families. One of their biggest achievements has been securing education for children with learning disabilities.
Until 1974, parents were generally told that their children were "ineducable".
But the organisation battled to change that and in 1974 an act was passed which opened the way for young people with learning disabilities to get schooling.
They also successfully campaigned for the closure of long-stay institutions which dominated the care system at that time.
When the charity was founded, parents had two choices: keep their child at home or put them into institutional care, Mr Scott explained.
Around 7000 people were in such care, but Enable fought to develop opportun-ities for people to live in their own communities.
All these campaigns have been led by the concerns of parents and carers, as are the ongoing services and initiatives that Enable work on today.
Mr Scott said: "All of the campaigning works that we do comes from experiences of our members and the stories our members tell us.
"Our membership 60 years later is as important as it ever has been."
Research has shown that one of the biggest chall-enges facing people with learning disabilities is the opportunity to form meaningful friendships.
Enable has set up projects to bring people together, as well as providing practical support through services for more than 1900 people across Scotland.
THESE are available at home and in the community alongside employment and training services and support for young people in school.
Today, a plaque will be unveiled at the hotel marking the significance of the building as the starting point for a charity.
Mr Scott said: "We want everybody who has a learning disability living in Scotland to have the choice and opportunity in order to live the life they choose themselves."