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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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At the close of this morning visit each attendant conducts her children in small squads to breakfast, which is served in small rooms, and according to habit or to special prescription. There again the attendant is alone, aided only by the more intelligent children, who feed with her the more helpless, or proffer other services. When breakfast is over the children are cleaned again and their physical wants attended to especially, so that nothing of the sort may interfere with the coming operations of the training. Then the attendants transfer the pupils to their teachers, and during school hours part of them take charge of the housework, part of the sewing, part of them are allowed to rest. At and after lunch, dinner, and supper, the same services are performed, after which the attendants accompany their charge, conveniently separated by ages and sexes, wherever the temperature permits. Here they are enjoined to not communicate one with another, nor work, nor read nor sleep, but to be in direct communication with the children, making them happy and lively with playthings and simple devices; at least making the lowest walk, without leaving them drowsy and isolated. Some children listen to stories, some are prevented from injuring themselves, some are amused, some are gathered around a girl singing simple melodies. When the afternoon teaching is over the attendants take final possession of their charge, clean them again, passing through the same routine of duties, and after supper accompany them to the music, dancing, plays of some sort, by which the day is closed. After consigning the children to bed the attendants may assemble for an hour or two of conversation, private sewing, etc., previous to resting themselves from their arduous duties. These have been arranged so that from morning till night every attendant has been in active service ten hours a day, almost all the time near the children. These indeed are trying hours, if we consider the responsibility of the station, and the kindness to be used as sole agency of obedience to orders, and of training to the habits of social life. The attendant cannot be empowered to punish or coerce children, but to help and incite them only; hence the necessity of choosing for that function women very kind, gay, attractive, endowed with open faces, ringing voices, clear eyes, easy movements, and affectionate propensity towards children. These are their only real power; when it fails they have to refer to their presumed superiors in intelligence, and to borrow of them an authority which cannot be exercised but with a complete knowledge of the physiological anomalies of each case. Thus is spent the time of these good women, who attend to the idiots much in the same manner as the monks of Spain of yore, and the farmers of Ghel later, took care of the insane, with little science, but a great deal of charity.


They have been followed all the while by the Matron, who sees that everything is right at bed-time, in the middle of the night, and in the early morning. When the first bell sounds, it is she who goes from bed to bed, making sure that the sick are not taken out and bathed to satisfy the uniformity of the rules. She soon knows who has been clean, quiet, orderly last night; and who is qualified or not for the occupations of the opening day. Thus she controls and confirms the correctness of the reports of the attendants; at the same time that, by her presence, she exacts that the children be treated in these trying hours as she would treat them herself. It is out of our plan to follow her in the exercise of her general functions, which are so well understood. But idiots require a very different sort of maternal attendance from that needed by other children gathered for charitable purposes. As soon as the orders resulting from the morning visits are received, she sees that they are carried into execution. In the infirmary she attends to the application of such dressings, and to the giving of such medicines, as the children may have been ordered; and at meals she directs that the prescriptions relating to individual diet are punctually executed. She never allows the children to go out without seeing that each one is clothed according to the peculiarities of his constitution and the temperature. The feet and hands are the objects of her greatest care in creatures whose circulation is mostly sluggish or impaired at the periphery. When they return she should look at each, to see if any one has fallen, hurt himself or others, coughs, or suffers in any way. In this kind of duties, of which we give only a few specimens, the matron's role is active. At other times her action becomes nearly or entirely silent or passive; as whenever the children are engaged in their various avocations with the teachers and gymnasts. There, without saying a word unless for the most urgent reason, she passes, remarking which among the many countenances become weary, exhausted, listless; she notes these for future observation, unless the uneasiness becomes so great as to call for immediate interference. She presides at the festivities among the children; at large parties, or weekly music or dancing, or daily evening pastimes, of a pleasant and informal character. And when the children have been put to bed under her eyes, sooner or later according to ages, she has not yet made them her last visit before retiring to rest herself.

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