Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

Previous Page   Next Page   All Pages 

Page 16:


The Sight may be as badly and more ostentatiously impaired than the Hearing. Be it fixed in one canthus, be it wandering and unfixable, be it glossy, laughing, like a picture moving behind a motionless varnish, be it dull and immured to images, its meanings are not doubtful; it means idiocy. Our impressions here would be very incorrect if they conveyed the idea that these defects of vision prevent the child from seeing. The images being printed on their passing into the ocular chamber, as the river-side scenery is on the passing current, the child, when he pays an accidental attention, gets a notion of some of them, but the transitory perception produced thereby can hardly serve him for educational purposes. The principal characters of this infirmity are, the repugnance of the child to look and the incapacity of his will to control the organs of vision; he sees by chance, but never looks. These defects of the Sight, when grave, are always connected with automatic motions, and both oppose serious obstacles to progress; one by the ease with which the child can use his negative will to prevent the training of his eyes, the other by depriving him of all knowledge to be acquired farther than the touch can reach. This complication makes a child look very unfavorably indeed, and increases much the task of his teacher.


Some idiots are deprived of speech, that is to say, do not pronounce a word. Some, speaking a few words more or less connected in sentences, have yet no language; for the word language conveys with it the meaning of interchange of ideas. In this acceptation, language does not belong to idiots before they are educated, nor to those who are but imperfectly so, and, consequently, they have a speech more or less limited, but no language; strictly speaking, speech represents the function, language the faculty.


When we come to examine the anomalies of the speech, as here defined, it is well to exclude, previously, the many organic disorders which may interfere with it as a function, and which have nothing to do with idiocy but as an external impediment and exogenous aggravation. For, because a child is idiotic, it does not necessarily follow that his organs of perceiving speech and of expressing language may not be impaired by some independent affection. Idiotic or intelligent, a child may be deprived of hearing, or of the movements necessary to form the speech, directly by malformation or paralysis, or indirectly by the many causes producing deafness. These are the causes of the organic mutism which must never be attributed to idiocy, but which too often aggravates it.


To substantiate in a few words the causes of the functional mutism derived from idiocy, we point out, first, the incapacity of the will to move the organs; second, the long silence in which idiots have confirmed their mutism, like prisoners have gotten theirs in protracted confinement; third, the absence of persevering and intelligent efforts of their friends to make them speak; fourth, the want of desire to exercise that function, and the want of understanding of the power of speech as a faculty.


In this wreck of powers, one human, irresistible tendency or impulse is left him; for as low as we find him, lower than the brute in regard to activity and intelligence, he has, as the great, the lowly, the privileged, the millions, his hobby or amulet that no animal has: the external thing toward which his human, centrifugal power gravitates; if it be only a broken piece of china, a thread, a rag, an unseizable ray of the sun, he shall spend his life in admiring, kissing, catching, polishing, sucking it, according to what it may be. Till we take away that amulet, as Moses took it from his people, we must have something to substitute for it. This worship or occupation shows that if the idiot can form, of himself, no other connexion with the world, he is ready to do so if we only know how to help him.


That the idiot is endowed with a moral nature, no one who has had the happiness of ministering to him will deny. Epileptic, paralytic, choreic, or imbecile children will often strike or bite their mother or affectionate attendant. If any idiot is found doing the same (and we never found any) he must have been taught it by some cruel treatment imposed upon him. In general, as soon as his mind is opened to reflection, the tender family feelings are so deep in him that they often interfere with his successful transplantation into the broader and richer ground of our public institutions.


It is true that his habits are sad, droll, or repulsive; that his doings are often worse than none; but these manifestations exhibit as much the carelessness and want of intelligence of the parents or keepers as they do the primary character of the infirmity. Does not the idiot, in making his silly gestures, tacitly say, "See what I am doing; if you knew how to teach me better and more I would do it." It is true, that previous to being educated, the slightest work is too much for him, and makes him recoil; but if we succeed in making him believe that he has accomplished a real object, emulation will appear and shed a ray of satisfaction over his face. He is sensible to eulogy, reproach, command, menace, even to imaginary punishment; he sympathizes with the pains he can understand; he loves those who love him; he tries to please those who please him; his sense of duty and propriety is limited, but perfect in its kind; his egotism is moderate; his possessive and retentive propensities sufficient; his courage, if not Samsonian, is not aggressive, and may easily be cultivated. As a collective body, idiotic children are, in their institutions, equal in order and decency, in true lovingness, if not in loveliness, to any collection of children in the land. Their moral powers are influenced by isolation, company, multitude, silence, turmoil, music, human eloquence, as they are in all masses of mankind. If we are asked how we pretend to see all these good and promising dispositions in the unfortunate subject whom we have depicted as more or less motionless, speechless and repulsive, we can affirm that the idiot, even when neglected in his lowest conditions, does not manifest any character contrary to the one here described; a character which we have seen him assume, steadily and uniformly, under the influence of a proper training, and, as we firmly believe, in virtue of his own moral nature; he is one of us in mankind, but shut up in an imperfect envelope.

Previous Page   Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54  55  56  57  58  59  60  61  62  63  64  65  66  67  68  69  70  71  72  73  74  75  76  77  78  79  80    All Pages