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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 swinging of the body in walking, or in the sitting posture, is characteristic of the disorders of contractility; besides, it is no doubt connected with some defect of the central nervous organs. We have seen similar uncertainty of gait in persons who have received a severe shock, or who labored under meningitis, who carried a large aneurism, or after having repeated pleurisies on one side; and we noticed the same swinging in a young soldier who had two bullets lodged in the left side of his chest. Besides, a set of special organs may be separately or collectively affected, as we have seen those of the movements of totality by want of synergy, which simulates paralysis; or by one of the anomalies of motion mentioned above. By inability of transmitting the orders of the will to any of the special organs, their functions are abolished or only altered in many modes which challenge a general description; and by the disorders of mechanism, automatism, etc. Moreover, special functions may be variously disordered in so many ways, that sooner than writing a volume full of these anomalies, we shall refer for their description, if important, to some observations to be found at the end of this volume. Another reason for not describing them separately is, that they are ordinarily blended with those of special perception; and that some of them will, in consequence, be treated of, together with some nervous disorders, under the common head of anomalies of the senses.


As we just premised, several anomalies of movement in idiots are more or less allied to dullness, exaltation, or other perversions of the touch; and we have to mention a few of these complications before studying the isolated deviations of the sense itself. Dullness of tact incites some idiots to strike their fingers against the hardest bodies, with apparent pleasure and irresistible eagerness; others to throw their thinboned foreheads against persons and things, making them rebound and resound as if suffering were pleasure, or both these feelings abolished. Contrarily, some children whose hand-tact is null, or hand-touch uneducated, substitute to them the head-tact and touch, actually tacting with the latter the things they desire or repulse; caressing with it the person they love. How could so different aberrations of a sense exist in idiots? But how is it that as soon as their hand is taught to touch, their forehead loses the power of touching and feeling?


The following are examples of another kind of hyperaesthesia: -- Some of our children will be unable to touch anything, but with the delicacy of the humming-bird, and seem to suffer greatly from any other mode of contact imposed upon the hands. The feet of others are so much affected with similar exaltation of sensibility, that the thinnest shoes pain them, and the contact of the softest carpet or floor makes them recoil or advance, as if they could not help it, and as if walking on live coals. The hands of one child will move with prestidigitative briskness without apparent object, single or interlaced, to intercept some rays of light falling obliquely into their vacant eyes. Other hands, affected with disorder of the touch, without obvious complication, are caressed, sucked, bitten, till the blood starts, or a heavy callous is formed to protect them; others are constantly bathed in saliva, and their skin nearly resembles that of the washer- woman: these hands feel, out of the mouth, like fish out of water. We could multiply these examples of anomalies of sensation, single or double, merely tactile or altogether tactile and contractile, by which the hand is robbed of its powers as an instrument of touch, as well as of prehension.


Setting aside these localized tactile disorders, general sensibility proper is dull in idiots, who are soon benumbed by cold and less affected by heat, but much prostrated by the atmospheric modifications of a thunder-storm.


With them the Taste and Smell are oftener indifferent than anormal. Rarely we see them have a taste for non-alimentary substances, or an exclusive appetence for one kind of food. Some of them, without swallowing, chew beads, suck pieces of broken china, etc., with apparent relish. The Smell may take possession of the same articles and scent them for hours, or delight in the fragrance of two pieces of silex, stricken one against the other; or, this sense may substitute itself for any other, as a means of discrimination and knowledge; or, on the contrary, be dead-like to all intent and appearance. But the difference between the errors of junctions of these two senses is, that the Taste is oftener depraved, and the Smell is more frequently exalted.


The Hearing is sometimes so passive and limited, and the intellectual wants so disinterested to the noises transmitted to the ear, that the idiot, though possessed of perfect organs of audition, is practically deaf, and, of course, mute; no deafness, and yet no hearing. Therefore, it is prudent to remember that next to the deafness from birth, or from infantile diseases, there is an intellectual deafness from idiocy; the only one which we shall specially consider. In this interesting condition the child may hear and even audit the sound of objects that he knows and wishes for, and none other. For instance, he hears music and no articulated voices; or he may retain and repeat tunes, and not be able to hear or repeat a single word. He may even, in extreme cases, be absolutely indifferent, and, consequently, appear really insensible to sounds; and then the diagnosis has to be postponed till the state of the organ and function is thoroughly ascertained by an experimental training of that sense. So far, he is practically deaf and mute, but is not so organically. This difficult point in diagnosis has caused many mistakes.

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