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Idiocy, As The Effect Of Social Evils, And As The Creative Cause of Physiological Education

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: January 1870
Publication: The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Diseases of the Nervous System
Source: Available at selected libraries

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None but physicians are qualified to inquire, and even to pry into these questions of human affinities, gestation, breeding, physiological training, emasculation of capacities, social vampirism of the idle upon the busy people, etc., which as a leaven, the rise or disorganization of certain human families. Rome declined, and Constantinople crumbled, not because the priests of Jupiter or Cybele, or St. Sophia, ignored these questions, but because those who ought to have studied and solved them with authority, as did Hippocrates, Arefaeus, Alexander of Trales, neglected the philosophy of physic, and its application to social sciences, for the disputes on pharmacology and demonology, or between herbs and amulets, etc. But, among physicians, none are better qualified to fulfil this philosophical duty than those engaged in the treatment of idiocy.


We say "idiocy," because the time has come for the treatment of "idiots" to take somewhere that synthetical shape of a comparative study of idiocy contrasted with normal youth; of the means of educating idiots and other children; of the methods of renovating life itself where it is deficient in the ill-born, and of increasing it where it exists in the well-born child.


After the etiology of idiocy, the first symptoms of it which can be appreciated are full of interest, but surrounded by much mystery and uncertainty. They cannot very well be studied in the existing institutions -- where children are admitted quite late in youth. This is somewhat of a new inquiry, which needs sincerity and confidence in both ways, on the part of the mother, and on that of her physician.


What are the early Manifestations of Idiocy? -- a. In the Mother. -- Eventually, we may be called to witness the whole period of gestation, whose circumstances give rise to the suspicion that its fruit may possibly come out altered by idiocy. Here our duty is double toward science -- that we are bound to forward by all fair means -- we are under the particular obligation to watch and note the case in all its particular actions, feelings, ideas, dreams even. After all, if the child comes out right, the world is the gainer; if, on the contrary, our previsions are confirmed, our observations accrue to the benefit of science. But, toward the mother and the new-corner, our duty is very different. We must not awake in her any suspicion of our surmise; nor forget that moral impressions are considered by many -- with or without truth -- as controlling certain results of pregnancy. Neither that, if a woman apprehends our suspicions, she may instantly and thence-forward take her share of them to the detriment of her health, of her nutrition, and of the child; that her interest in the matter is one of life or death, and ours only one of observation. In a word, let us remember, that our first duty is toward the living, the second to science. But those occurrences are rare in which idiocy may be predicted, and the materials for its history prepared with a foresight -- the more precious when we meet with one of them.


Oftener, what we know of the events and incidents of gestation comes to us later, by hearsay, or by the mother herself; sometimes with an indubitable color of truth and reality -- at others, tinted or evidently distorted by the imagination. So that we must pay great attention to what we hear on that score, of events and feelings in pregnancy; but be much more particular about the place we assign to these details in our memory or memorandum.


b. Early Manifestations of Idiocy in Infancy.


The beginning of children, like that of nations, is enshrouded in fables; that of idiots and of great men surpasses all in marvels. Let us only inquire how he suckled, and how long he slavered, and when he began to hold his head, pay attention by the ear or eye, hold and let go intentionally and not much more This is enough to characterize an infant idiot, but does not improve.


c. Our Knowledge of Idiocy in Infancy. -- This knowledge seems to be attainable only by keeping together, like twins, a well and an idiot baby; and we will see in one cradle vigor, command, joy, anger, and tears; in the other flabbiness, no feeling but that of hunger, no laugh, no tears ascribable to human causes. When the time for action arrives, one sits, creeps, fall to rise again; the other, crouched, keeps his hand in his mouth. One begins to speak, the other only moans. When one supplies himself with all the good and bad things he can lay his grasp on, the other would starve, if he was not stuffed with a uniform soft food, often pushed into the gullet by the helping hand, deglutition being as impossible as mastication. All the senses of one are wide awake, of the other dormant. One induces, deduces, supposes, inquires, to botheration; the other continues unimpressed, impassable, isolated, idios.


But these two cradles, or sooner, these two children, but in reality these two types -- since we have in view normal youth and idiocy -- must, as anatomical models, stand in school, he kept in constant parallelism, where idiocy is studied as a branch of morbid physiology. Then, by the sedulous and timely observation of the minute physiological deficiencies, as they prevent action in one child, and of the corresponding efficiencies as they develop themselves in the other, and incite him to action, our sketch will be completed into a perfect and useful likeness of human incapacity contrasted with human capacity.

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