Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

Previous Page   Next Page   All Pages 

Page 9:


In previous periods the total absence of general education for the masses, and of systematic training for the perceptive, inductive, and deductive faculties in each individual, made progress a spasmodic affair, quite properly attributed to blind fate; whereas, in the future, progress resulting from the equal education of all women and men, and from the direct training of all their functions, shall appear to every mind as it really is, issuing from an intelligent and understood Providence, which leads us through a continuous series of improvements towards our religious destiny.


At this point physiological education merges into the moral training. This we cannot even sketch without going beyond the object of this introduction, which was two-fold.


1st. To trace the origin of the methodical treatment of idiots and their congeners.


2d. To present the philosophical history of the idea of training the functions, and all the faculties as functions (instead of only instructing children) ; from its germination to its maturation in the school for idiots, and to its actual fitness for the training of all children.






Synonyms. -- Named by Savage, Amentia; by Segar, Imbecillitas in genii; by Vogel, Fatuitas ingenii; by Linnaeus, Morosis; by Cullen and Fodéré, Demence innêe; by Willis, Stupiditas; by Pinel, Idiotism; by some English Writers, Idiotcy; by Esquirol and the majority of Encyclopaedias and Dictionaries, Idiocy.


We shall use this latter term to express the physiological infirmity; and would like to see the name given to it by Pinel, Idiotism, preserved to express the specific condition of mind pertaining to idiocy.


Its definitions have been so numerous, they are so different one from the other, and they have so little bearing on the treatment, that their omission cannot be much felt in a practical treatise. Our own, if objectionable, will be found at least to correspond to a plan of treatment, both supporting each other; and may suffice until a better definition and a better treatment can be devised.


Idiocy is a specific infirmity of the cranio-spinal axis, produced by deficiency of nutrition in utero and in neo-nati. It incapacitates mostly the functions which give rise to the reflex, instinctive, and conscious phenomena of life; consequently, the idiot moves, feels, understands, wills, but imperfectly; does nothing, thinks of nothing, cares for nothing (extreme cases); he is a minor legally irresponsible; isolated, without associations; a soul shut up in imperfect organs, an innocent.


The modus operandi of deficiency of nutrition in the first period of life has not yet been fully investigated; it may bear upon all the tissues, but we are concerned here mostly with its action on the nervous system.


At the time when deficiency of nutrition takes place it stops the foetal progress, and gives permanency to the transitory type through which the foetus was passing; these transient types being to some extent analogous to the persistent forms of the lower animals. For instance atresia palpebrarum testifies to the presence of the cause of arrest of development as far back as the third month of gestation; arrest of development of the inter-auricular septum leaves the human heart homologous with the heart of fishes; similar early arrest of nutrition of the encephalon leaves its circumvolutions unfinished at the low types of the orang-outang, the calf, or even lower. After the time at which deficiency of nutrition has stopped the ascending evolutions of the embryo at one of its low types, it sometimes continues its deleterious action of altering, or entirely destroying the foetus also. For instance, it may destroy one of two foetuses for the nutrition of the other, leaving next to the spared one an acephalus, or only a few fragments of an organized being; or it may partially destroy an encephalon at any stage of development, even after birth, by the intervening of hydrocephalus; or it may give rise to some embryonic malady, destructive of a set of organs or of functions. Though deficiency of nutrition may affect the whole being, it strikes by preference one set of organs, such as those of speech, of hearing, of local contractility. Deficiency of nutrition happens in two ways: slowly, when induced by depressing influences; or at once, when brought on by a shock. Hence the first leaves the child a prey to maladies of embryonic origin, or at best at a low point of vitality; the other leaves him well provided for by anterior nutrition, but torpid, or a prey to automatism, epilepsy, etc.


It is true that we ignore most of the influences which produce deficiency of nutrition in utero, but the fact itself cannot be denied. Impressions will sometimes reach the foetus in its recess, cut off its legs or arms, or inflict large flesh-wounds before birth; inexplicable as well as indisputable facts, from which we surmise that idiocy holds unknown though certain relations to maternal impressions as modificators of placental nutrition. Farther, ignorance stops us. On the threshold of the investigation, instead of knowing all the causes of deficiency of nutrition, we are delayed by the necessity of studying the circumstances in which it appears, and so often produces idiocy.

Previous Page   Next Page

Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45  46  47  48  49  50  51  52  53  54  55  56  57  58  59  60  61  62  63  64  65  66  67  68  69  70  71  72  73  74  75  76  77  78  79  80    All Pages