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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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This effect of the want of nutrition is not peculiar to the nervous system; it rules the growth of all the other systems, and develops nearly all of the constitutional affections of childhood. We can trace the beginning of diseases of the long bones, of the spine, of the circulatory and respiratory apparatus, etc., to that same cause, deficiency of nutrition at the very time when each of these organs required the most effective nourishment. This explains why each of these constitutional alterations must be expected at certain periods of life, idiocy at first, rickets, phthisis next, etc., till dementia and paralysis close the series. Thus, deficiency of nutrition bears alternately upon the apparatus whose growth or temporary activity requires the most nutriment. This law traces our duty to the new-born infant.


The health of the mother, her labors, inactivity, food, drink, aeration, comfort, happiness, having a direct bearing upon the state of her milk, and her milk upon the nutrition of the infant, call our attention before everything else; because, owing to the want of expression of the passive little being in the first weeks of life, irreparable mischief may be worked by bad food, before one could be made aware of it.


Next in importance comes the watching of the deficient abilities of the child, and particularly the distinctions of their constitutional and external causes; many infants look like idiots, or bid fair to become such, who are only crippled by something or somebody, and many idiots continue for months their marmot-like life, who are thought only dull babies.


At this stage of life, where all the impotencies of babyhood do not differ from incapacitation by infirmities, the difference may be established only by reference to the age appointed by nature for the evolution of each function. Among the first, extending the arm, opening the hand, grasping, is a series; looking, turning the head upon the axis, raising the spine to the sitting posture, is another; hearing voices, listening to catch sounds, reproducing them to amuse the organs of audition, is another of the endless groups of capabilities which spring up, one after another, and which are so long or vainly expected from idiots.


Who could watch over the tardy coming of these functions better than a mother, if she were timely advised by a competent physician? The skill of the latter is of no avail without her vigilance, and her zeal may be very blind, even mischievous indeed without his advice; stuttering, squinting, and all sorts of bodily defects, besides the perpetuation of the worst symptoms of early idiocy, are too often due to the want of this concerted action of love and knowledge.


As soon as any function is set down as deficient at its due time of development, the cause must be sought and combated; if external, removed; if seated in the nervous apparatus, counteracted by the earliest course of training and hygienic measures. The arm of the mother or nurse becomes a swing or a supporter; her hand a monitor or a compressor; her eye a stimulant or a director of the distracted look; the cradle is converted into a class-room, gymnasium, etc.


If the features of idiocy are decidedly marked, the mother must often visit with her child the nearest institution, see what is done there to remedy similar cases, and receive the instructions necessary to carry on the same treatment at home. If this prove costly at first, even to the State Institution, it will in the end save the State and families the expense of several years of after-teaching, besides accomplishing more fully the object of the treatment.


In this manner, when the time arrives for admission into the school, the child feels at home among the exercises, pleased by the general activity, music, and amusement of the place; has no resistance nor antipathies to what it has seen from infancy, and cannot fall at its entrance into the position of a stranger, subject to nostalgia and its consequences.


This double and alternate education of the infant-idiot at home and by contact with the school, brings us closer to the method of physiological training.


The child, going through the institution at first on the arm of its mother, soon feels the influence of the general training, even in its apparent inattention, and is thereby better prepared to be individually carried through the same movements. Home again, and in the silence of privacy, the child's attention will be more easily concentrated upon some of the facts or actions whose outlines are yet faintly delineated in its sensorium, at the same time that its resistance to fresh contact is lessened; the double result is new perception and increased spontaneity, oscillatory strides from the general to the special, and vice versa, towards the completion of its perceptive, reflective, and spontaneous faculties.


These alternate reactions of the perceptions on spontaneity, of the will on reflective agencies, is the modus operandi of the physiological process of education for idiots, for children, for mankind. They take place in the terminal loops or plexuses which are scattered in the integuments like so many peripheric brains; in the sensorial and motor ganglia; in the intellectual ganglia or hemispheres. Through the conductors of motion and sensation, the central and generalizing organ receives the external impulse, and transmits its orders to each apparatus of action.

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