Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

Previous Page   Next Page   All Pages 

Page 29:


When we come to consider the hand in idiots as an instrument of function, we are not more struck with its physiological disorders or deficiencies than with the almost universal anomalies of the organ; hands too short and clumsy, or spindle-shaped; fingers truncated, with unfinished nails, or thin and glossy, like quills, with pearly little nails; articulations so stiff that they can hardly be moved, or so loose that they cannot be fixed; tissues bloodless or darkened with stagnant blood; and there are so few exceptions to these extremes that we cannot avoid confessing the marvelous harmony of both physiological and organic disorders. This hand, stiff or relaxed, shaken with automatism or soaked in saliva, must be constantly present to our sight, as it will become henceforth an object of solicitude and study.


If any part of us challenges a definition it is the hand, its excellences being so many that a single definition cannot comprehend them all. The definition of De Blainville, "a compass with five branches," justly elicits the admiration of the geometrician; ours, not so dazzling, will come nearer to our object -- the hand is the organ of prehension. Its incapacity puts a barrier between the idiot and everything to be acquired. Without further explanation, we will try to carry the hand from its incapacity in idiocy to its full capacity when improved by education. But this last view of the hand is too broad yet; and we shall be contented for the present with improving its powers only of prehension.


When we say prehension, we mean the complex action of taking, keeping, losing hold; otherwise, to seize, hold, and to let go: those three terms are the beginning, the object, and the end of the act of prehension. This act, so simple for us in its trilogy, is either impossible to or incidentally performed by the idiot. It requires for its mere material accomplishment the concourse of contractile nervous and willed functions. This concourse, far above the understanding of many men, is certainly above the average ability of our pupils, who, far from entering willingly, as the occasion offers, into new contacts, find in themselves more energy to avoid than would be necessary to meet them. Considering the gravity of this infirmity, as shutting the being out from any intercourse and creating the most positive isolation, the task of teaching prehension can never be commenced too soon. Even the impossibility of standing on the feet must not be a cause to delay the improvement of the hands, since we see babies seize with their contracted fingers before they can use their feet to stand.


When the idiot cannot, or will not, use his hands, he is put in front of an inclined ladder, his feet on a round his hands on another, which generally he will not grasp. Supposing the worst to be the case the child's equilibrium is soon lost; he falls as low as the teacher thinks proper, since he has a good hold of him by the ring of his gymnastic belt. Then he replaces the child on the ladder and allows him again to fall, till the child, understanding better, and feeling where more comfort may be found, holds on with his hands. If he protracts his resistance too long (and it goes too far if protracted farther than the time required to get acquainted with the various parts of the apparatus), a stop may be put to it by transferring the child to the perpendicular ladder, he being on one side, the teacher on the other, and a sufficient pressure exerted by the teacher's hands upon those of the child to prevent his throwing himself down, and to make him support his own weight.


When this, which cannot yet be called prehension, is accomplished without too much of struggle, the child is put behind the inclined ladder and made to grasp one of the highest rounds; his teacher standing in front of the same, presses his hands with his own to make sure that they will not let go. A reliable hold being had in this way, the teacher passes one foot behind the ladder, with which he pushes out the feet of the child from the round supporting them. Against this the child protests, and to diminish the pressure on his hands, tries to regain with his feet the lost round from which the teacher keeps them away; the more spirited is the contest, the more promising is the result.


Nevertheless, long before exhaustion could ensue, the teacher takes away one of his own hands, and passes it rapidly on the other side of the ladder where it finds the hand of the child loosened and moving about, not knowing what to do with itself. What to do, is to take hold of the next lower round. The hand is directed to it. This new hold is not as heavy as the first one, and offering a sort of security and repose, the child takes it; if not, some assistant holds his hand upon it, till the teacher can secure it himself. Then the other hand of the teacher lets the other hand of the child go in the same manner, and makes it take a new and lower hold, in the way already described. So child and teacher descend slowly the ladder, the pressure of one supplying and teaching prehension to the other, the weight of the child behind, the direction of the teacher in front, the pressure on the hands above, the repulse of the feet below, and lower down the fear of a fall; such are the combined inducements to an early though unwilled prehension. Such and similar means will soon render a child capable of grasping at something, at least to prevent a fall.

Previous Page   Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54  55  56  57  58  59  60  61  62  63  64  65  66  67  68  69  70  71  72  73  74  75  76  77  78  79  80    All Pages