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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 deafness and its consequent muteness is not always absolute; the children may hear a few words in a sentence, and speak in the same proportion; they may hear words uttered very near them, and they will speak or answer at the same distance -- not farther; nevertheless, to embrace all the cases, we treat of intellectual deafness in its broadest acceptation.


The sense of hearing is put in activity by the stroke of atmospheric waves into the auditory apparatus. Its functions are hearing, auditing, listening, selecting, and repelling sounds. We simply hear when a sound makes an impression without the help of attention; we audit when the organ is kept intellectually attentive; we listen when the sounds or their meaning being difficult to gather, the organ is kept in functional erethism by the will. The ear selects one sound among many as when following the tick-tack of a watch among clocks beating the same measure, or the voice of the broker among the meleƩ of cries at the stock exchange, etc.; and the ear eludes altogether the impression of all sounds when our mind is deeply engaged otherwise. These two latter uses of the ear are acquired by experience in special circumstances; the first three are, for the sake of simplicity, reduced to two -- the passive mode, or hearing, the active mode comprising auditing and listening, whose distinction is only incidental, though important.


The sounds, objects of our present studies, are noises, music, and speech. These three classes of sounds speak respectively, the noises to the wants, the music to the motive powers, the speech to the intellect.


From passive hearing to active audition and intense listening applied to these three classes of vibrating phenomena, there are many grades that are far from being gotten over by many children -- even by most men; in this way we carry idiots as far as we can, and generally far enough for ordinary intellectual purposes.


The sounds of noises are like hieroglyphics of phenomena, meaning the thing producing the noise; one means pouring rain, another means the rushing of winds; one means sawing wood, another means the frying in the pan which awakens the child's appetite. The wild boy educated by Itard did not hear the report of a pistol discharged, behind his head, but heard the fall of a nut upon the floor. If water be poured from one vessel into another near an idiot apparently deaf, at a time when he is very thirsty, he will turn his head and go for a drink. What a field to awaken the attention and make the organ ready and sensible!


Music, if it has no special meaning for idiots, is competent, by the arrangement of its vibrations, to excite in them many unknown impulses; hence music has more lasting and varied applications than noises in our treatment. Noises are more particularly taught to individuals separately, in isolation and in ambient silence; music is employed more for groups in nearly all its applications, and they are many.


Music pleases the child without hurting him, a few exceptions reserved; it gives rest from hard labor; it causes in the immovable child a tremulousness of all the fibres, which is easily turned into incipiency of action; it prepares the nervous apparatus in a similar manner, awakens, quickens, and supports the thoughts wonderfully; it dispels anger, weariness, melancholy, and disposes to gentle feelings; it is a moral sedative by excellence.


We hardly think it necessary to say that to produce these physiological effects the music played before and with the concourse of idiots must be selected or composed expressly for their wants, their tastes, the necessities of their various circumstances.


The general characters of their music must be striking contrasts, long silences after vivacious measures, etc.; the morning airs beginning with the tunes corresponding to the natural dispositions of the children, modified by the brightness or dulness of the atmosphere, by the heat, thunder, rain, snow, and any particularity that affects the emotional powers. The tunes must carry them thence by a pleasing transition to the point of slight reflective excitement favorable to study; the tunes played to concentrate the attention acting like a sedative to muscular exertion and those relieving the mind from these bonds must express mirth or muscular vigor to disperse the children towards play-ground or gymnasium.


Preceding physical exercises, the strains shall be lively; and when accompanying them shall affect, as nearly as possible, the measure of the actions commanded; and when later, accompanying the exercises of human voices, the notes must come forth in long, prolonged tones, favoring the emission of the steady sounds of vowels or syllables. As for the artistic use of music idiots are sensible to it. As a recreation, their taste is of the popular or colored kind; they like lively funny airs and songs, without being indifferent to impressive ones. Most of them like to be drowned in torrents of music, being soon carried away by the impulse of its vibrations; and it does them good to be served often through the day with treats of harmony as with food, provided there be variety in the acoustic relishes.

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