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Origin Of The Treatment And Training Of Idiots

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1856
Publication: American Journal of Education
Source: Available at selected libraries

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For those individuals who are destitute of spontaneous action, imi-tation was found one of the most powerful means of progress. The excitation of the imitative powers ought, then, to hold a prominent place in all the treatment, physiological, psychological, and moral. The sequel of this observation was as follows. In the physiological order, imitation, applied to gestures and gymnastics, gives to idiots attention and aptitude of the body; while, imitation, transferred from unmeaning gestures to those gestures that have a private or social object, prompt to voluntary, regular action, which can produce work at any time, however it may be, simple or complex; the ability to labor is thus conquered.


It is one of the characteristics of idiocy, that it is constantly rep-resented, in an individual, by one or more than one anomalies, in the functions of the senses, viz.: deprivation, imperfection, dullness, or exaltation. These sensorial symptoms of idiocy, so variable in their manifestations, since they affect sometimes the touch, sometimes the taste, sometimes the sense of smell sometimes the ear, and oftener still the sight, served so well to corroborate the doctrines of the mate-rialists of the 18th century, that Itard considered them all as consti-tuting idiocy. In consequence, his treatment was wholly directed to the aim of repairing the disorder of the senses. The dogma of the 19th century teaches us, on the contrary, that the senses are not the mind, far less the soul; that the sensorial development is produced in the race, as it comes out in the individual, immediately after the muscular development; and that, these being accomplished, the mind and soul, the intellectual and the moral principle remain untouched. Immense revelation! since that which was regarded by the materi-alists as the end, is nothing more than the end of the first phase of the human trinity, and, in consequence, as the prolegomena of the treatment of idiots.


Thus it appears that the men who have given the formulas for the treatment of idiots are no less than the leading minds of the 19th century, they are those men who have rescued the science of anthro-pology, taking it up at the point where the Bible leaves it, making man, says the Book, "in our image after our likeness."


The senses, being in man, the doors through which the mind issues and enters, we have treated them in idiots, as in the material world, entrances oblique, too narrow, or defective in any way are treated, i.e., we have straightened or enlarged them. We have also profited, by these openings, to introduce, besides the material notions of the physical properties of bodies, a few simple ideas relating to simple and useful, or agreeable objects. These first ideas have embraced two classes of phenomena. -- 1st, the class of the wants, which attaches an idea of usefulness to each object; a class of unlimited extent, which gradually leads a man from the want of an artificial sole for his foot, to the research of some propulsive agency swifter than steam. 2d, the class of wonders, which offers pleasure and discovery, food to the fancy, to everyone, to the savage as well as to the civilized, to the idiot as well as to the sage. Michael Montaigne calls curiosity, "that charming fury which urges us all to the incessant search after some new novelty." Idiots do not seem to possess that natural curi-osity, -- mother of the beautiful and of all progress -- but the teacher can excite it in him.


In order to accomplish this, the idiot should receive a course of treatment similar to that which developed the primitive nations. The glorious effulgence of the light, the gloomy shadows of the darkness, the striking contrasts of colors, the infinite variety of form, the smoothness or hardness of substances, the sounds and the pauses of music, the eloquent harmonies of human gesture, look and speech, these are the powerful agents of their transition from physiological to mental education.


Away, then, with books! Give us the Assyrian and Jewish mode of instruction. The representative signs of thought where painted, engraved, sculptured in deepness or in relief sensible to the eye and to the touch; the tables of the mosaic laws appear in the midst of thun-der and of the lightning's flash; in the same way, the symbols, under which is concealed the modern mind, should appear to the idiot, under these historic and powerful forms, so that seeing and feeling all at once, he will understand.


In most cases, speech does not exist among idiots. To teach them to speak, it is necessary to bear in mind, -- 1st, that the primitive languages are monosyllabic; 2d, that they have a rhythm like music; 3d, that they represent first the wants heightened to the pitch of the acutest feelings. When the idiot can speak, read, or count, to some extent, he has acquired the instruments, by the aid of which the edu-cation of the mind, already begun, is possible. Let us go on, then, in this second period of the teaching, till the heavens and earth fail to furnish us with the means of progress. The intelligence of every man has its limits; that of the mind of the idiot will be more restricted. In the foregoing task, there has been a period to teach the idiot to walk, to hold himself erect, to grasp with the hands, to carry, to act, to look, to hear, to speak, to read, and all these follow each other without confusion, like points of different perspective in a landscape; but one principle has accompanied and controlled all these successive steps -- the principle of moral training.

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