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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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At this stage there can be no mistake; we see plainly what he is, and we can describe what we see. This is the time when the study of the physiological symptoms will make up for the deficiency of the anatomo-pathological ones.


The functions of organic life are generally below the normal standard. The respiration is not deep; the pulse is without resistance. The appetite is sometimes quite abnormal in its objects or limited to a few things, rarely voracious, though it looks so, owing to the unconventional or decidedly animal modes of eating and drinking of these children. The swallowing of the food without being masticated, only rolled up in saliva, resumes many of these imperfections which are to be attributed in variable proportions to absence of intelligence, want of action of the will on the organs of mastication and deglutition, deformity of and want of relation between the same. As might be expected, imperfect chewing produces on them, as on other children, unpleasant effects, but no more. Their excretions cannot be said to present any dissimilarity from those of others which our senses can discriminate; only their sebaceous matters are as different from ours as ours are from those of the variously colored races, or from those emitted in most diseases.


The functions of animal life, or of relation, are generally affected in idiocy; either by perversion, diminution, or suppression. We shall begin the study of these anomalies in the organs whose contractility has for object the movements of displacement and prehension.


The incapacity of walking, and of prehending objects, to whatever degree it exists, gives the measure of the isolation of the idiot. He is isolated because he cannot go to the distant phenomena; he is isolated because he cannot possess himself of those which come in the range of his imperfect grasp; he is doubly immured in his muscular infirmity. The same motor function may exist, but escaping the control of the will, it produces movements more or less disordered, mechanical, spasmodic, or automatic. Disordered, when their want of harmony prevents the accomplishment of their object; mechanical, when their recurrence, in the course of other normal movements, cannot be otherwise produced or prevented, but can hardly be postponed by a superior influence; spasmodic, when they proceed from an accessory condition of the nerves congener to chorea or epilepsy; automatic, when they consist in the continuity or frequent recurrence of a single unavoidable gesture, without object or meaning. The simple disorder of movements involves a waste of nervous power disabling, more or less, the child for useful activity, hut not depriving him of it entirely. The mechanism throws, unexpectedly, some instinctive jerk or motion in the midst of well-regulated actions. The spasmodism accompanies all actions, as in chorea, or substitutes itself at times for all the normal acts, as in epileptic seizures. The automatism acts as a substitute for all, or nearly all other modes of contractility; it incapacitates more and more the child's muscular power for any useful purposes; and, as a sorry compensation, furnishes him with a supply of involuntary instead of voluntary exercise. Of the four anormal ways of expending uselessly and unwillingly the contractile force allotted to the muscular system, automatism is the most tenacious, when, for years past, no physiological action has been induced by proper training in its stead.


Idiocy affects the body in its general habits, as bending forward, throwing the head backward, moving it in a rotatory manner which seems impossible, swinging the body to and fro, or in a sort of sideway roll.


Another anomaly of contractility is its difference in either side. Whatever wise provisions have been made to secure the unity of action of the two sides which look like two men living right and left under the same skin and name, as anastomoses everywhere, decussations in the medulla spinalis, medulla oblongata, and nerves of special sense; connection of both cerebrum and cerebellum, by the pons varolii, corpus callosurn, and commissures; notwithstanding all these, one side of the body, of the limbs, of the nerves, and, some observers think, of the brain too, seems to take the lead. Who uses equally both hands? Who is sure that he does not think and express himself mostly by the impulse of a single hemisphere? These apparent deviations from the pre-ordained human type strikes more in idiots, who are often more incapable, colder or weaker on one side without hemiplegia, who walk better and step higher with their left foot, who are oftener left-handed than ordinary children, and who write, if not corrected, from right to left, as the Bible was written.


Contrarily, idiots, but not the lowest, seek sometimes for the repetition on one side of impressions they have previously received on the other, even if these inflict pain. But common children are found doing the same, and very likely continue to do it until experience has taught them the more summary process of trusting to the experience of a single side-apparatus.

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