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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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Setting aside these muscular disorders we find ourselves in presence of the whole cortege of muscular incapacities incumbent on idiocy, every one of them presenting its claim to our care as foremost. Attending to one would be as neglecting the others, or like treating one symptom to the exclusion of others, disregarding the disease itself in its unity. In our case, for instance, every particular incapacity of the legs, fingers, etc., is subordinate to the impotence of the general activity; we will not, therefore, pause on the threshold to look at the inefficiency of a single part, but consider the incapacity of the whole motor function.


Muscular activity is a function accomplished by the contraction and relaxation of the muscular elements; movement taking its fulcrum in immobility. Therefore, before and simultaneously with, directing the training towards the acquisition of some special movement, we must accumulate its greater energy in view of the concentration of activity into positive immobility, wherefrom all action springs. Immobility is taught in various attitudes - standing, sitting, reclining one way or another, on some gymnatsic apparatus, with the rifle, the dumb-bells, the balancing-pole, etc., according to the obstacles which are to be encountered, and the various stages of the training; example:


If the immobility of the whole child cannot be enforced at once, we may seat him before us, half mastering his legs between our knees, concentrate all our attention upon the hands, and eventually upon the one most affected. To accomplish our object we put the quietest hand on the corresponding knee, whilst we load the delinquent hand with a heavy dumbbell. Useless to say that he does not take hold of it and tries to disengage his hand; but our fingers keep his so bound around the neck of the dumb-bell that he does not succeed. On the contrary, we take care to let the weight fall more on his hand than on ours; if he does not carry it, he supports it at least. Supporting the burden, the more he moves to remove it the more he feels it; and partly to escape the increase of the burden, partly by fatigue, his loaded hand becomes still; that stillness was precisely our object.


'When we find that hand temporarily subdued, we relieve it from the dumb-bell, and venture to set it free opposite the other hand, and to maintain it motionless by the combined action of our voice, looks, and gesture. After a few such sessions of alternate loading and resting we generally succeed in keeping the hand quiet enough for the simplest employment; if not, by looking carefully, we will find that the remaining impediment to the usefulness of the limb lies in some extra delicacy of the sense of touch, which happily may be blunted by the use of the balancing-pole and a series of exercises of resistance; but this is part of the sensorial training. The case presented here is one in which partial immobility was the prominent aim; conversely in another case, immobility shall be secondary, and movement the principal object, as when we keep the whole body quite motionless to concentrate the attention upon delicate exercises of a single part. But we cannot forget that our final object is to teach complete immobility; and to come to it no pains, no time must be spared, because our reward will be the harmony and usefulness of all the subsequent movements.


As immobility is in nature the fulcrum of movement, so in our training it will precede and close every exercise, and serve as transition and as repose between the various modes of active training; so, at this very juncture, the child will be submitted simultaneously to passive exercises, to intrinsic and relative immobility and to movements necessary to learn walking, all of them transitions and reposes coming alternately.


If we take the child so low that he cannot and will not move, seated like an inert mass upon his chair, we must move him ourselves. To that effect we employ instruments of passive exercise, which act on activity nearly like personal impulses. The legs do not bend, we make them yield under the elasticity of a baby-jumper; the feet do not come forward for the walk, let them encounter with the regularity of a walk a spring-board, which receives and sends them back like an intelligent, indefatigable ground would do. Kneading the muscles, handling the articulations, moving with the floor of a tread-mill, and like appliances, will give the pupil the muscular strength to walk: but he will not walk yet, and we make him resume in immobility the seated posture a little longer.


But, after all our passive exercises, he cannot yet stand erect and ready for a walk on a level floor. Then we raise him on two blocks or steps as narrow as his feet. and even we let him fall, being at hand to prevent an injury, but not to blunt the emotion, and to restore him, if needed, to his up-isolation. There he must stand and stand firmly too, having to react with an energy unknown to himself against the vacuum around, which invites him to a fall. To resist the attraction of the void, he must strain his muscles in readiness for any emergency; he is anxious, he does not know exactly why, nor what to do, nor what not to do: but his strength is gathered, and if we have in front of him some other steps, and if we help him a little with our hand or finger at first, he will try, in the prospect of escaping the isolation, to pass one foot on the next step, on another, and on another, anxious, crying, but walking in fact for the first time. Left on a floor, he would have slid his feet very likely, but not walked all his life. He walks now, but with a swinging of the body, owing to the incapacity of the hands.

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