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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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For those unmoved by moral or artistic considerations, or even little sensible to the comfort or happiness that idiots certainly derive from the appreciation of good things, it will be necessary to present the training of the smell and of the taste, in its true relation to strictly intellectual and spontaneous faculties.


In the first place, in the blank condition of their mind, anything desired by the taste or smell, even the most vulgar, which can make an impression must be welcome, as the first object likely to exercise attention, and to be compared with the next. In the second, if the child does not care for anything but a few objects whose taste and smell we taught him to like and wish for; well, there are our first levers, there are the characters of our drama, let them speak. A smell attracts the attention of the child; his hand, which has never held anything, brings the perfumed flower to his nose, or oftener to his mouth, very frequent and curious confusion of the two senses; let him do; do not disturb this first intention, this first desire followed by a voluntary action, and its rewarding pleasure, even if he eats the flower, instead of smelling it. But this is only the beginning.


The senses and delicacies have declared their affinities for each other. We cultivate the former, we select intelligently the latter; and here by satisfying, there by contrasting these appetites, we multiply the objects of comparison, we graduate the exercises of the child, and we always end a more sensorial, would-be vulgar exercise of the taste or smell by increasing the attention, the comparison, the desire and will of our pupil.


When he is familiar with a certain number of objects by the use of sense, those are spread out, and he is asked which he prefers, which he knows by name if he can speak; or if he does not speak, to select, or even to eat or smell those he likes best. Then depriving him momentarily of his sight, we present successively the objects to the tongue or nostrils, which must discriminate them without the help of the touch, sight, or hearing. When an idiot is brought to that point of attention, comparison, desire, once or twice a day for several weeks or months, for the satisfaction of this class of appetites, experience does not permit us to doubt that he soon can be attentive, reasoning, willing, about something else; we could sooner doubt that the yard-stick used to measure lace could measure calico; that the child who counts cherries, can soon count dollars; attention once fixed, is fixable; discrimination and will once acting upon our series of phenomena will act upon others, provided these new ones are natural, and presented in a physiological gradation.


Before entering into the treatment of audition, it is necessary to consider the anomalies of that function. The diagnosis of the various incapacities of the ear is difficult. The ear in man does not show its activity by external signs, as it does in some animals, nor even as much does our eye. Some people seem to hear well though perfectly deaf, as when, through the vibrations of the floor, they follow the rhythm of music or the dance in measure; or when a deaf-born baby begins to understand and to use language as long as it lies on the vibrating chest of his nurse; but hears no more and speaks no more as soon as it is deprived of its contact with the resonant walls of this living musical instrument.


Hence, parents generally assert that their child was not born deaf, but became so precisely at the time when it was put down to crawl and walk. Hence J. R. Pereire concluded conversely that he could teach the perception and the reproduction of the speech by the touch; in which he succeeded so well that he communicated to his pupils even his own southern accent.


On the other hand, children may not hear because, not of organic, but of intellectual deafness. A celebrated surgeon once sent us a deaf mute idiot, a child who could give no sign of hearing and was absolutely mute. We had seen with Itard several children intellectually deaf; and having ascertained that this one was sensible to a single noise produced by something he liked, we promised his parents that he could be made to hear, which he did inside of three months, and to speak, which he did inside of six. But in the majority of cases of apparent deafness and mutism, we must be sparing of promises. One fine-looking idiotic girl, after years of apparent deafness, was taught to hear and comprehend the language very well; yet she remained mute, being prevented from speaking, even from crying, by local paralysis; showing that mutism cannot always be safely referred to either kind of deafness


Besides the intellectual deafness caused by idiocy, alienation, ecstasy, and the organic deafness caused by defects in the organs of audition, there are several causes which interfere with speech in children, idiotic or not. These causes which complicate or aggravate idiocy are paralysis, of which we gave an example. Chorea, dyspnoea, an unsymmetrical arrangement of the maxillary bones, and teeth, vices of conformation of the larynx and tongue, and a high, ogival or funnel-shaped palate, etc. -- accessory infirmities which require the help of medical, surgical, or mechanical skill. Leaving this to whom it belongs, we concentrate our efforts upon the intellectual deafness produced by idiocy.

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