Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wild Children

Feral or "wild" children are those who have been abandoned or lost in the wild for all or a considerable part of their formative years. Such children have generally lived without any direct human contact and very may not even develop rudimentary language. Though there are many legends of feral children, only a few cases have been documented and verified. Perhaps the most famous was Victor, a child of about twelve years of age, who was found living alone and naked in the woods of Aveyron just after the French Revolution (French film director Francois Truffaut directed and stared in the film about Victor, L'enfant Sauvage, which was released in 1970).

Studies of feral children have led to new methods for teaching children with learning disabilities, and indirectly to the development of Braille and sign language. They have also led to new understanding of how children develop language and how human development is affected by a lack of physical and emotional contact.

Fortunately examples of extreme neglect of children are rare, but horrific cases emerge from time to time.  The most famous case of recent years was that of Austrian Josef Fritzl who, in 2008, was discovered to have kept his daughter Elisabeth confined in his house for 24 years, together with the children he fathered with her. In 1970, a similar case was discovered in Los Angeles. "Genie" Wiley was imprisoned in her bedroom by her father for all of her young life and not permitted any human contact.When she was discovered she was unable to speak or show normal emotion, presumably because she was beaten when she made any sort of sound. The documentary and article below give some details about the attempt of psychologists to integrate Genie back into society and teach her to speak. Her case also gave researchers some valuable insights into how language develops in children.


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