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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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When the centripetal nerves are slow in accomplishing their action, the balancing-pole gives them quickness. To that end let us choose a light one, whose body is elastic, and send it into the hands of the child, who has to send it back to our hands extended in waiting for it; this is a fast game, in which the vibrations of the pole send their undulatory shocks, as the bow sends its to the fiddle through the strings; felt it must be; in token of which, the child who was at first sending the pole rather reluctantly, sends it back very soon with a sort of repulsive vigor, as if saving, " Too quick for me." True, the rapidity and number of vibrations thus sent and communicated to the slow organs is incredible, but the more efficacious.


The sensorial ganglia may be suspected of being the seat of the deficiency of sensibility when what remains of this is more dull than slow, and when the integument used in prehension and touch offers no particular anomaly. In these less promising cases we must not relinquish entirely our daily experiments of the touch, but ask from hygiene and medicine the help that they can give, if interrogated with discretion on constitutional matters.


From this point up, the doubt about the organ where lies the defect or the breach of communication, is not easy to resolve. Nevertheless, if one sensorial function alone be stopped, or decidedly more deficient than the others, we may surmise that the disconnection is in the special apparatus, or sensorial ganglion; but if all the functions fail to transmit their impressions to the hemispheres, these intellectual organs may fairly be held accountable for the infirmity.


We have insisted upon these tests of the diagnosis as paramount to the treatment, because their analogue will be found in the study of other senses, and also because when we meet with similar obscurities, instead of treating actively all at once we know not what, we must keep the children under a simple treatment of observation. There, not being disturbed by much coaxing, exercised for their health and comfort, we have a chance to observe them; they have chances for attention, emotion, awakening of feelings: this too is treatment.


We need make no apology for introducing the taste and smell, after and almost as appendages to the touch, because they are the senses the nearest akin to it, and their treatment once disposed of here, we shall be at liberty to follow without interruption the education of the eye and ear as far as they will carry us into the intellectual training.


This remark does not imply that the taste and smell are gross material senses which have nothing to do with the intellect. Where we find them low and depraved, it is because they have been fed with vulgar, fastidious, or disgusting food, in the same way that reason is limited by ignorance, blighted by prejudice, distorted by sophistry. It is true, God has blessed with no taste or smell those who live in destitution, crowded among decaying animal and vegetable matters; but whenever the working masses are put in contact with elegant perfumes and food, if it be only to produce them, they are improved and elevated by it. On the other hand, any excess in food or drink, or aromatics, is visited by disorders of function which react on the normal qualities. The use, we mean the normal use, of food and perfumes has a present and lasting influence on idiots.


Its present effect is to make them sensible to anything dirty, and desirous to avoid it, and to anything pleasant, and wishing to enjoy it. It forces the mind of the child to the exercise of many operations of comparison and judgment upon sensorial tastes and distastes, which could never take place in his brain at this present early stage of the training upon matters pertaining to less sensorial and personal feelings. It is, besides, a guarantee against gluttony, the delicacy of the taste extending soon as far as to the comfort of the stomach.


As for the future, the cultivation of these senses determines always the general, and often the special tendencies of our pupils. Educated in the enjoyment of cleanliness, good food, sweet air, their general tendency is to shrink with horror at the contacts of the street, chance, and beggarly life which is the lot of many uneducated idiots and imbeciles, and to determine their aspirations towards better and higher walks of life. That special culture opens their laboring avocations in the way of some healthy, honest employment of their small abilities, by which they become gardeners, florists, and farm boys, instead of slaves of competitive labor in feodal, infectious factories.


We do not need to say much more, to show that the education of these senses is of the utmost importance, even when being only dull, they are not found incapacitated by some peculiarity. Borrowing nearly always our studies from contrasts, rarely from similars, we must be careful to go far enough in the extremes of differences to make them felt, but not enough to blunt the nerves. There is a gamut in the scale of smell and taste as in the scale of sound; it is not beneath our dignity to compose series of experiments to awaken the dull senses of idiots, as the florist combines his bouquets for enervating and other purposes, or the cook prepares his dishes for the satisfaction of delicate appetites.

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