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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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Next, and last, we notice the imbecile who, whatever maybe the origin of his infirmity, is generally mistaken for an idiot. He is rarely affected with muscular or sensorial disorders, unless from accessory causes, such as chorea, or hemiplegia, or made worse by self-abuse; his affection is more referable to the condition of the nervous centres, and is of an intellectual cast, bearing on attention, memory, reason, etc. He has arrived at that condition of mental degeneration by any of the circumstances which produce deficiency of nutrition, and cause idiocy in early life, and imbecility in subsequent years. The imbecile having, previously to the arrest of his development, acquired experience of things and persons, and gathered, consequently, instinctive and social feelings; the same cause which leaves at the outset of life, the idiot incapable, ignorant and innocent, leaves, later, the imbecile self-confident, half-witted, and ready to receive immoral impressions, satisfactory to his intense egotism. Hence, we see him coming forward with an ungainly aspect, making show of his trinkets, and offering them for trade; he can read, more or less; speaks confusedly, and recites verses with pouting emphasis and sprinkling of saliva. He might do some kind of work which may be accomplished by the repetition of simple movements, if his mind could be steadied to any employment. He delights in the company of street boys, who joke, cheat, and abuse him. These tastes and habits educate him to boasting, lying, cruelty, artifice, jealousy, and even to plotting, robbery and arson, with a strong dose of hatred for those who advise him to take a better course. Later, these moral depravities make a lodgment in his brain, in the shape of false reminiscences or spurious images of impossible facts; he mistakes his best friend for his foe; does not feel safe; has seen eyes following him in the night, or a suspicious light cross his room; he heard threats behind him; he knows the fellow, and will break his neck. The next we hear of him he will be in a prison, or insane asylum, or involved by sharpers in a law-suit; to-day he is an imbecile, to-morrow he may be a criminal.


Supposing no omission, here are five classes of persons confounded with idiots without reason, nor the excuse of necessity. This confusion bears upon their position educationally, socially, and legally.


Four of the five classes above enumerated require, like idiots, the benefit of a physiological education; and as long as there is no provision made, especially for each, their wholesale admission with idiots looks like a matter of course, and is very much so, as far as philanthropy is concerned. Even in respect to education proper, we are inclined to think that the teaching part of the method is calculated to do equal good to those unfortunate children. But all is not teaching in our training. Deeper than the exercises, than the lessons, than the incitations addressed to activity and intelligence, lies the foundation of the work - in the moral training; incessant influence, which is like the spiritual atmosphere of a place of this kind, intended to correspond to the wants, sympathies, and resistances to be encountered in idiots. If we except the backward children, the other classes require different and stronger moral agencies to act upon them; they need a moral training whose character may be defined by establishing its situation midway between that of Leuret for insane, and ours for idiots.


But if these children, uneducable in ordinary schools, and unprovided with special ones, must be, for a time at least, indiscriminately treated with idiots, this necessity does not justify their confusion with them, nor the social indifference. Many of them would improve, many more would not have fallen into bad habits and criminal partnerships, if they had only received the attention bestowed on ordinary children; double dereliction, from which they and society subsequently suffer. In this abandonment the child with insane propensities loses sooner and more completely the balance of his judgment, or the control of his passions; the imbecile familiarizes himself with all sorts of eccentricities of the lowest order; the backward child lapses into the solitary walks of the youth who avoids company, to not be disturbed in his task of self-destruction; and the idiot shuts himself up more and more in his isolation. Hence, by a just return, society is occasionally startled by deeds of horror committed, not so much by these irresponsible beings as by those who neglected their duties towards them. Even now, that State and National institutions have been founded for the improvement of idiots, these children and the others above enumerated, when sent out from .their schools, some imperfectly improved, some very little, some without means of support or of starting in the world, some without friends or family worth claiming, will be exposed to imminent dangers to themselves and others, till asylums shall be provided for their refuge, not so much against their own vices as against the incitations of vicious people.

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