Genie Wiley: America's Feral Child video transcript

Hello and welcome back to Psych Ed. This video covers the story of Genie, which is the pseudonym of an American feral child. You might have heard about Genie before, and that wouldn't be surprising as her circumstances are quite prominently recorded.

When Genie was approximately 20 months old, her father began keeping her in a locked room. During this period he almost always strapped her into a child's toilet or bound her in a crib with their arms and legs immobilised. He forbade anyone from interacting with her, provided her with almost no stimulation of any kind and left her severely malnourished. The extent of her isolation prevented her from being exposed to any significant amount of speech and as a result she did not acquire language during her childhood.

So a little bit more about Jeannie's father. He neither liked children nor did he want any of his own. He found them particularly noisy and he was quite noise averse. However, as these things happen around five years into his marriage with his wife she became pregnant. She gave birth to an otherwise apparently healthy daughter. However, I mentioned that the father was quite sensitive to sound and he found her cries disturbing and placed her in the garage. It was there that she caught pneumonia and died at the age of 10 weeks old. The second child, born approximately a year later, was a boy who died when he was a mere two days old. Three years down line they had another son who doctors described as being quite healthy despite having what is known as an RH incompatibility. His father forced his wife to keep quiet, causing significant physical as well as linguistic developmental delays. Genie however was born about five years after her brother around the same time that her father began to isolate himself and his family from all other people at birth. She was in the fiftieth percentile for weight. When she was a few months old, she went for a medical appointment and it showed that she was gaining weight normally, but they did find that there was a continental hip dislocation. Which required her to wear a highly restrictive splint from the age of 4 1/2 to 11 months.

So while there is relatively little information about Genie’s early life, at the age of 11 months, Genie was still in overall good health and had no noted mental abnormalities, but had fallen to the 11th percentile for weight. The people who studied her later on believed that this was a sign that she was starting to suffer from some degree of malnutrition. As I said, 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 his wife or son to talk. Particularly if forbade them speaking to or around Genie. Any conversation between them was therefore very quiet and out of Genie’s earshot, preventing her from hearing any meaningful amount of language.

Genie’s father kept Genie’s room extremely dark and the only available stimuli was a crib, the chairs, curtains on each of the windows, three pieces of furniture, and two plastic rain jackets hanging on the wall. On a rare occasion, he allowed Genie to play with the plastic food containers, old spools of thread, TV guides and the raincoats. The room had two almost entirely blacked out windows. The Father's name was Wily and when a drunk driver killed Wily’s mother in 1958, he apparently unravelled into anger and paranoia and locked Genie alone in her small bedroom isolated and barely able to move and this is how Genie passed the 1960s. The mother, whose name was Irene, finally fled in 1970. A bit of a funny story actually. Genie’s mother decided to apply for disability benefits in a nearby city and brought Genie with her, but on account of her near blindness, Irene accidentally entered the General Social Service Offices next door to the Disability Benefits Office and thus the authorities were able to spot that something was not quite right. At this point in time Genie was around thirteen years old. At this point, Genie a ward of the Court was moved to LA's Children Hospital where paediatricians, psychologists, linguists and other experts from around the United States petitioned to examine and treat her. For here was a unique opportunity to study brain and speech development and how language makes us human.

Genie’s behaviour was typically highly anti-social proved extremely difficult for others to control. Regardless of where she was and she constantly salivated and spat, continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything and anyone who happened to be nearby. She had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or taking something that she wanted from somebody else. Nor did she have very much situational awareness. She could speak a few words, such as blue, orange Mother and go but mostly remained silent and undemonstrative. She shuffled with a sort of bunny hop and urinated and defecated when stressed. Doctors called her the most profoundly damaged child that they had ever seen.

In January 1971 doctors administered a developmental evaluation test and found Genie to be at the developmental age of a 1 to 3 year old. Noting that she already showed substantial developmental disparities. The following months psychologists evaluated Genie and her scores ranged from below a 2 to 3 year old to on a few components a normal 12 to 13 year old. Around the same time doctors noted that she was very interested in speaking and she attempted to mimic some speech sounds. By April and May 1971, Genie’s scores on certain performance scales had drastically increased with the overall mental age at the typical level of a 4 and a half year old. But on some individual components, she still showed a very high level of scatter meaning it was inconsistent. Her progress with language did accelerate and doctors noticed that the word she used indicated a fairly advanced mental categorisation of objects and situations and focused on the objective properties to a degree that wasn't usually found in that age group of children. However, research funding eventually dried up and Genie was moved to what was considered to be an inadequate foster home. Irene, her mother, briefly regained custody, only to find herself completely overwhelmed, and thus Genie went back to another foster home and then a series of state institutions under the supervision of social workers who barred access to most people. We don't exactly know how Genie turned out because she sort of went off the radar. But from what doctors have said, her progress started to rapidly reverse and it is likely that she never reached that stage again. And that's it for this video.

Genie Wiley: America's Feral Child video

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