Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Genie: Secret of the Wild Child

This is an old (1997) NOVA documentary from PBS on one of the classic cases of a feral child. "Genie" was isolated and neglected in every possible way (other than barely enough food and water to keep her alive), and when discovered she was unable to speak and presented more as a wild animal than a 13-year-old girl.

Her case, and a handful of others, revealed that there is an age "cap" of socialization and language, after which it is nearly impossible to alter the brain and behavior. It also demonstrates how important the attachment system is in allowing infants to become human beings - in many ways, Genie was never fully human. 

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Her case highlights the degree to which extreme neglect can destroy a human being. I have seen this film several times over the years, and it tears my heart each time I see it.

Genie: Secret of the Wild Child

NOVA Documentary | 1997 | Transcript

This is an Emmy Award-winning documentary about a girl who spent her early life chained in a bedroom. Brought up in confinement, "Genie" was primitive, brutish, and hardly capable of walking or talking. NOVA follows the contentious attempts to unbolt the secret of the wild child who has reached near maturity in an agonizing seclusion with almost no human contact.

The story begins in Los Angeles on November 4, 1970, when authorities have taken under protection a thirteen-year-old girl that was kept in such solitude imposed by her parents that she never even learned to talk. The parents have been accused of child abuse.

Genie was imprisoned in a bedroom and bound to a potty chair for the most of her early life. Fully kept under control, she was made to sit alone every day and night. She had almost nothing to look at and no one to talk to for more than a decade. The girl allegedly was emitting immature noises and was still in diapers when social workers found out about the case, but the officials were anticipating she may still possess a normal ability to learn.

The girl who gave an impression of an infant would be well known as "Genie." She was transported to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles where she instantly gained the affection of doctors and scientists. She was delicate, lovely and poignant... and Genie was about to put on trial an idea paramount to science and society: that caring, encouraging and affectionate environment could make up for even the most brutal past.

Genie had an awkward walk and other almost non-human features. She continuously spat, sniffed, and clawed. She hardly articulated anything or produced any noises. Investigation showed that she was abused for making noise and as a consequence, had learned, basically, not to vocalize. And she really didn't speak at all. She was mute most of the time.
Watch the full documentary now

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