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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 frightened grasp must be instantly used to take hold of, and carry things, for a less instinctive purpose; because when a function has been exercised for some time without object, the child has received from it an impression exclusive of any attribute and usage; it is not only for him a useless function, but one whose later intellectualization becomes next to impossible. For this practical consideration, as soon as a function begins to be accomplished mechanically, we set it in action for purposes and objects more and more intellectual, trying to leave no gap in the series of progress till the function is thoroughly elevated to the rank of a capacity. Now for the application of this principle to our present case. The child comes from behind the ladder where he began, under the uniform pressure of our hands, to exercise the same pressure with his own against the rounds, and to seize or prehend, without much knowing why, unless for fear of a fall. We study him after coming from that ladder; he is seated, or standing, or sitting piteously enough, looking at his hands slightly bruised, and heated by the process they have gone through. Do we intend to leave him there under such an impression? If we do, he will present more resistance to our next trial, and will not be blamable for it; for so far, we have taught him less how to prehend with his hands than how much to apprehend with his mind instructed by the sight and touch, the next similar painful contact; in fact, we have created less positive power than negative resistance to the series of manual experiments in which he was entering. On the contrary, on taking our child down from the ladder we do not leave him time to look at his hands, but extending them horizontally, we put on each a bright apple. He, partly to feel the coolness on all the burning surfaces, partly not to let the apples fall, will contract his fingers and get a circular, equable, willed prehension of them; quite a progress on the passive contraction of the hands on the ladder's round. The apples are used when they can be had. In summer large balls of crystal would be cooler and more pleasant if possible. The fall of currants, grapes, or cherries in the hand would produce a similar derivation of feeling by contrast; circumstances dictate the choice of these means. As for the object, pleasure confirms the first consciousness of prehension gotten by force, and opens the organ to any unexpected perceptions; preparing the hand, so to speak, to think and to foresee for itself.


Now that we have obtained from the ladder the good it can give in the way of creating the grasp and of forcing to strenuous or lasting prehension, we may as well warn against its inconvenience when employed too long or too exclusively. If used to excess, it elevates or rounds the shoulders it stiffens the joints, particularly the small ones; and unfits the hand for light and quick work. Therefore, to strengthen the prehensive power we must use, concurrently with the ladder, some other exercise, such as the balancing-pole, whose action is so rapid, and may be rendered quite energetic. But to react against any stiffness produced by the ladder, when the child comes to it, we must put him to some brisk exercise of the hands like those described farther on, to promote the faculty of imitation. From a heavy prehension, the child must pass to a light one; from a long one to a short one; and we must remember and apply the principle, to teach the prehension of bodies of every form and weight in its three modes -- seizing, keeping hold of, and letting go.


The hand is to be trained for years in these abilities, not so much with extraordinary apparatuses as with things ordinarily used in daily life. This training transforms in due season part of formal prehension into easy handling. As this extension of ability of the hand comes little by little, its importance may be overlooked, and even its acquisition neglected; but this ignorant neglect would cost, after a while, an immense range of capacity; let us see.


We prehend everything about in the same manner, but we certainly handle everything in a special manner, a glass, an axe, a pen, a spade, etc.; prehension is more physical, handling mor e intellectual; prehending done passively has only one object, obedience; or done actively, is for the direct use of the child; but handling is, we may say, always a willed action having reference to things, to persons, to feelings, and to combinations of these innumerable.


As soon as an idiot begins to prehend and to handle, he must be made to work. When we impose this rule we know what obstacles are to be encountered. His hand is clumsy and weak yet, his movements have no regularity nor steadiness, his mind does not offer to the organ of execution any object worth doing, and what he begins under our orders he drops through unwillingness. Even when his will begins to harmonize with ours in any undertaking, his synergy is soon exhausted, and as a sign of his weakness we may see his forehead or hand becoming covered with heavy drops of perspiration at the beginning of a thought or of an action. This must not deter us from our final object; the more difficult it is, the sooner and the oftener must we go at it; the simplest work, the easiest and lightest thing done steadily by repetition or imitation, is better than nothing; the girl who begins to wipe the dishes, the boy who picks up the stones in the field, are above all helping to save themselves from the horrors of idiocy.

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