Feral child: The heart breaking story of Genie, victim of abuse neglect and social isolation

A feral child or wild child is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has little or no experience of human care, of loving or social behavior, or, crucially, of human language.
Photo Flash: First Look - Barn Theatre's TARZAN, Opening 7/23
Jamey Grisham who played Tarzan

Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents), and in some cases this child abandonment was due to the parents’ rejection of a child’s severe intellectual or physical impairment. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Feral children are sometimes the subjects of folklore and legends, typically portrayed as having been raised by animals.

Myths, legends, and fictional stories have depicted feral children reared by wild animals such as wolves, apes, and bears. Famous examples include Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan, and the legends of Atalanta.
Legendary and fictional feral children are often depicted as growing up with relatively normal human intelligence and skills and an innate sense of culture or civilization, coupled with a healthy dose of survival instincts; their integration into human society is made to seem relatively easy. One notable exception is Mowgli, for whom living with humans proved to be extremely difficult.
Mowgli
The mythical children are often depicted as having superior strength, intelligence and morals compared to “normal” humans, the implication being that because of their upbringing they represent humanity in a pure and uncorrupted state, a notion similar to that of the noble savage

Feral children lack the basic social skills that are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright after walking on fours all their life, and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language. The impaired ability to learn a natural language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning, and taken as evidence in favor of the critical period hypothesis.

There is little scientific knowledge about feral children. However, Genie born in 1957 is the pseudonym of a feral child she was not reared by wild animal but was the victim of extraordinarily and severe abuse, neglect and social isolation from her father.
A clearly-defined black and white close-up photograph of Genie from the chest up against an indeterminate background. Her eyes are focused slightly above and to the right of the camera, and she has an expressionless, vacant, innocent look on her face.
The first publicly released picture of Genie,
 taken just after California authorities
 discovered her at the age of 13.
Genie's father kept her locked alone in a room from the age of 20 months to 13 years, 7 months, almost always strapped to a child's toilet or bound in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized, and left her severely malnourished. During this time she was never exposed to any significant amount of speech, and as a result she did not acquire language during childhood. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970


During the daytime, for approximately 13 hours a day Genie's father tied Genie to a child's toilet in a makeshift harness which, according to her brother, their father forced his wife to make. The harness was designed to function like a straitjacket, and while in it Genie wore only diapers and could only move her extremities.At night, usually around 7 PM, when her father remembered to move her she was put into a sleeping bag where she would be bound and placed in a with a metal-screen cover, her arms and legs immobilized.

Researchers believed that at times she was simply left tied to the child's toilet overnight, although her mother later disputed this. At first her mother could sometimes take her out to the back yard and put her in a small playpen, but Genie reportedly angered her father because she frequently took it apart; although her mother said she was allowed to stay with her daughter while in the yard, the doctors who worked with Genie believed this was a sign that her parents often left her there by herself for extended periods of time.After a short period of time, Genie's father decided not to allow her outside her room at all.
crib potty chair for genie
Potty Chair


Apart from her father's beatings, Genie's only meaningful human interaction occurred when she was being fed. Her father fed her as little as possible, and only gave her baby food, cereal, Pablum, an occasional soft-boiled egg, and liquids; she was never given any kind of solid food. Her father, or when coerced her brother, spooned food into her mouth as quickly as possible. If she choked or could not swallow fast enough, it would be rubbed into her face.


Genie's father had an extremely low tolerance for noise, to the point of refusing to have a working television or radio in the house. He almost never allowed Genie's mother or brother to speak, particularly to or around Genie, and viciously beat them if he heard them talking without permission. What conversations they had were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie's earshot, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful language besides her father's occasional swearing.


In late October 1970, Genie's mother and father had a violent argument in which she threatened to leave if she could not call her parents. He eventually relented, and shortly thereafter Genie's mother was able to get herself and Genie away from her husband while he was out of the house; Genie's brother, by then 18, had already run away from home to live with friends. She and Genie went to live with her parents in Monterey Park.

Three weeks after they left, Genie's mother brought her along while seeking disability benefits in Temple City, California. On account of her near-blindness, she inadvertently entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie; she was shocked to learn Genie's true age was 13, having estimated from her appearance and demeanor that she was around 6 or 7 and possibly autistic. She notified her supervisor, and after questioning Genie's mother and confirming Genie's age they immediately contacted the police. Genie's parents were arrested and Genie became a ward of the court, whereupon a court order was immediately issued for Genie to be taken to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Her physical condition and near-total unsocialized state provided the immediate impetus for her admission, but authorities also noted her complete lack of speech or expressiveness


A slightly grainy color picture of Genie in a plaid-patterned dress and thin sweater outside walking by herself in the Children's Hospital recreation yard, looking extremely pale, emaciated, and expressionless. Her limbs are exposed and look extremely thin. Both of her knees are very bent, and her arms are bent forward with both hands hanging down as she holds them out in front of her.
Genie in the Children's Hospital yard
 a few weeks after her admission,
displaying her characteristic "bunny walk".
Upon admission to Children's Hospital, Genie was extremely pale and severely malnourished. She was severely undersized and underweight for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg), and had nearly two full sets of teeth in her mouth and a distended abdomen. A series of X-rays taken soon after her admission found she had moderate coxa valga in both hips and an undersized ribcage, and her bone age was determined to be that of an 11 year old. The restraining harness her father used had caused a thick callus and heavy black bruising on her buttocks, which took several weeks to heal.

Genie's gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs. Kent was somewhat surprised to find her fine motor skills were significantly better, determining they were at approximately a two-year-old level. The day after being admitted to the hospital, he noticed that she did not seem to have any difficulty with using only her fingers to flip through pages of a magazine.She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time.




As Genie never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, completely unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. Because of this she would hold anything which she could not swallow in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby.


Despite tests which determined Genie had normal vision in both eyes she could not focus them on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, which corresponded to the dimensions of the room she was kept in. Her movements were very hesitant and unsteady, and her characteristic "bunny walk", in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested difficulty with sensory processing and an inability to integrate visual and tactile information. She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures. Doctors noticed her extreme fear of cats and dogs from the outset, but initially attributed it to an inability to think rationally; its actual origin, that her father had acted like a growling dog to intimidate her, was not discerned until years later


A black and white screenshot of Genie enthusiastically smiling. It shows her from the chest up, taken while Genie is facing slightly to the right of the camera.
Genie
In January 1971, doctors administered a Gesell Developmental Evaluation and found Genie to be at the developmental level of a 1–3 year old She started showing more interest in people speaking and attempted to mimic some speech sounds, and although her imitations were very infrequent doctors thought this was a positive sign. Her voice was very soft, completely monotonic, and similar to earlier cases of feral children was extremely high-pitched, far above even the normal range of children who are first learning to speak. As Genie had been forced to repress all vocalization from a very early age, her larynx and vocal tract were extremely underused and left her unable to control air flow and her vocal chords.


Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area. In May 2008 ABC News reported that in 2000, someone who talked to them under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie. She was reportedly living a relatively simple lifestyle in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she only spoke a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language. In 2003, Genie's mother died of unspecified natural causes at the age of 87. her father had earlier committed suicide. Her circumstances are prominently recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology.

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