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Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

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

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The ordinary swing is dangerous as a depressor of the nervous system, and consequently more greedily wished for by those children it injures the most. Ours differs in two essential elements from this; it has a point of contact on the springboard, by which the motor powers of the child are constantly aroused instead of being lulled into sleeping indolence; and it is set and kept in motion by the child himself, who exercises thus his chest and arms incessantly, instead of reclining in a useless posture. It is difficult to imagine two apparatuses of the same name so nearly alike, yet so opposite in their physiological attainments, as the air-swing of the yards, and the spring-swing of the idiot gymnasium. The former gives lulling, enervating sensations; the latter brings on healthy contractions, and binds the unwilling to unavoidable activity. The dumb-bells are rarely used for idiots as for ordinary children, as instruments to give a momentum to an automatic balancing. Automatism in any form need not be favored in them; but dumb-bells are instrumental in many exercises, the purpose of which deserve at least a hasty notice.


They are used physiologically, as we have seen, to regulate the general equilibrium in station, immobility, walk, jumps, going up and down stairs, etc.; to bring their momentum to bear on the shorter or weaker lever when one side is different from the other; to give regularity to irregular movements, and even to carry and absorb the automatic deviations of gestures into their normal movements; to teach how to take hold and to let go; to teach to obey commands with both sides or only one; to impress the mind with the ponderable qualities of matter, each time they are taken and abandoned; to realize through the muscles, by the same alternative burdening and discharging, the rapidity and reality of orders.


The dumb-bells act on the mind as much as on the legs, spine, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. We find bricks of greater advantage to strengthening the phalanges of the fingers, and to improve the grasp. A prolonged exercise with the dumb-bells is liable to stiffen the fingers, but they are handy for group exercises. Of late Swedish clubs have been substituted for them and do very well, besides their more showy appearance. In individual exercises they have no advantage over the dumbbells; in group exercises they make a different sight, and could not well be dispensed with, where introduced by way of variety and elegance. Moreover, these clubs are not as heavy as iron dumb-bells; it is true that we have the latter of wood also. Nevertheless, "abondance de bien ne nuit pas," and change pleases idiots as well as any of us.


To give the fingers nearly all their strong qualities, not the delicate ones, we use the balancing-pole already mentioned, but not described. It is a round stick of hickory, three and a half to four feet long, armed at both ends with wooden balls which render it very springy. it is thrown from our hands into those of the child, who sends it back, receives it again, and so on with progressive force and rapidity, from increased distances.


This is sooner said than done. The truth is, that some idiots offer to it a resistance next to insuperable; however, this exercise is of such importance, that the negation of the child has to make room for our will. If he runs away from the coming pole, we put his back to the wall, or his feet on two high steps; if his hands remain closed when the stick comes to them, somebody from behind has to hold them open, thumbs up, and to shut them when the stick is received. The same help is required to throw off the pole out of the hands which receive it unwillingly, and which do not want to throw it now. These helping hands which do the receiving and the sending, for and through the rebellious hands of the child, must be very delicate indeed to feel at each stroke how much of the child's action begins to take an instinctive or initiative part in their own action; and to calculate, consequently, how much of the next movement can be left to be accomplished by the spontaneous action of the child.


So the simple action of receiving and throwing a stick requires at first not only three pairs of hands to accomplish it, but is to be analyzed and divided into so many parts of action, less and less from us, more and more from the child, that no language, descriptive or scientific, could give an idea of the many steps in this work, till he, half impatient, half knowing, throws the stick with a willed jerk in advance of our help, then we have succeeded.


It will be unnecessary to describe again this exercise when speaking of it as the best gymnastic for a wandering sight. The need of following the stick in its forward and backward moves renders it especially useful when we want to educate the look. Its usefulness will be equally paramount when the hands, narow-shaped -sic-, and the fingers, dry and glossy, can bear no contact but that of saliva or of a few things selected for their peculiar softness. It blunts the hyperaesthesia; under its action the hands soon resume their normal touch, and we shall be happy to find the balancing-pole again when treating the anomalies of the senses.

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