“The young man was found lost, in the wild and full of scars from animal bites. He appeared immune to heat and cold, ripped clothes people tried to put on him and refused to eat cooked food. , consuming only raw foods “.
This description may remind you of some fictional characters such as Tarzan He Mowgli from the jungle book.
However, on this occasion, they refer to Victor de Avairon, One of the best known cases of “wild child”. This young man was found by hunters at the end of 1799 in a forest in the town of Avairon, with the characteristics described above, also highlighting a large scar on his neck probably made with a knife or object sharp, suggesting that they may have tried to end their own life.
The case of Victor d’Avairon
The child in question had been spotted several times climbing through the trees, Running on all fours, drinking in streams and eating acorns and roots, until he was finally caught when, during the winter, he approached farms in search of food.
Doctors at the time believed the boy was mentally retarded in not understanding or responding to the language. Victor would be adopted by a teacher named Itard, Who considered that the child had only a deficit in language development due to the long period during which the child was supposed to have survived in solitude.
While a woman named Mrs. Guérin would take care of the child, Itard would try to educate and reintroduce the little wild child into society, trying to teach him language, moral behavior and social norms.
However, despite many years devoted to this task and the importance of Itard’s work (his methods being taken into account a posteriori by educational methodologies like Montesori), no great success was achieved, abandoning the attempt to education and leaving the child under the tutelage of Ms. Guerin. Victor would die at the age of forty, still in his care.
What is a wild child?
Victor and many others like him are considered wild children; belong to this category children who have been isolated from society for a long period of their childhood and / or adolescence, either because they have been abandoned in a wild environment, or because they have been lost, or because they were detained or confined during their childhood or puberty.
These children present with serious behavioral and cognitive alterations., Product of the lack of acquisition of knowledge and skills allowing coexistence and participation in the social life of a community.
It should be noted that there is some variability in the cases observed. In feral children three basic types can be found: Children who lived a long time in solitude (as in the case of Victor d’Avairon), those who survived in a hostile environment being cared for by other animal species, and children who were mistreated and confined for much of their life.
Characteristics of wild children
One of the most obvious symptoms is the absence or underdevelopment of the language. Although different authors disagree on whether human language is a fully learned skill or whether the necessary structures already exist for it from birth, the existence of learning periods in which an explosive development of certain abilities like language. These periods are called critical periods.
In the case of language, experts noted that the critical period occurs between three and four years. Thus, if the appropriate stimulation is not given at this stage, the capacities of the child will not develop properly, weighing on his entire development and making it difficult for him to adapt correctly to the social environment. Not only language skills, but also representation, relationships and even the construction of personal identity would be affected.
In addition to the lack of language, another of the main shortcomings of these children and which in turn explains most of the rest is the lack of socialization. Because through social interaction one learns and exchanges information with others, it is possible to develop perspectives and ways of thinking and acting that enrich the personal repertoire and help to improve adaptation to the environment.
Due to their weak or lack of socialization, feral children are unable to participate in society, acting on what has been learned throughout their lives in the habitat in which they grew up. In other words, their attitudes and skills make them able to survive in the environment in which they grew up, but they do not apply to community life.
Another element common to most cases is the avoidance of human contact. Both physically and emotionally, these children try to distance themselves as much as possible from their peers, which made it difficult in the early bars to deal with cases.
This fact is explained if we take into account that in addition to the fact that they have not had contact with humans for a long time or that it has been aversive, these children were unwittingly removed from the environment in which they grew up, And even on some occasions when they were adopted by animals, they could see their savior die at the hands of humans.
Other known cases of wild children
Besides the case of Victor, described above, there are a large number of examples. Next, we’ll look at the story of two more of them.
Amala and Makala, the wolf-girls of India
On October 9, 1920, two terrified and dirty girls stared in horror at an armed crowd gathered around them, protected from the crowd by a wolf. The people around them, inhabitants of the village of Godamuri (India), opened fire on the wolf, and without the intervention of a local reverend, Joseph Amrito Lal Singh, they would have ended the lives of the girls by the believer was spirits.
The two little ones were caught and taken with great resistance from them to an orphanage run by the Reverend, Where he and his family would try to re-educate them and reintroduce them into society.
Symptoms of isolation
From the start, the girls showed a high degree of aggression towards human beings, biting and scratching those who tried to approach them and allowing only their own mutual company and that of the local dogs. They tore the clothes they were wearing and had difficulty standing. The two girls walked on all fours, Apparently without perceiving cold or heat. His interaction with others was limited to growling, which towards socialization was very difficult to achieve. They both hated cooked food, eating only raw meat on the patio floor.
Like the wolves who looked after them, the two girls tended to sleep during the day and do the nightlife. It was common to hear them scream at night and they seemed to have a slightly more developed sense of smell and night vision.
Unfortunately, a year after entering the orphanage, the three-year-old Amala will die of dysentery. His sister had to be forcefully separated from the mortal remains, reacting to it with screams and great sadness. Over time, Kamala began to make small strides in socialization and language acquisition, gaining around 30 words and starting to walk upright. Over time he was able to communicate with the Reverend and his family through words monosyllabic., Until finally the little one died of typhus at the age of 15.
Like that of Victor d’Avairon, the case of Follet is one of the most well-known “wild children”, this time located in the state of California. The girl in question, born in the 1950s with serious health problems (incompatible HR, congenital hip dislocation and possible intellectual disability), was locked by her father in a small room and growing up tied to a chair during the day. and caged at night from twenty months to thirteen, with a forced diet based on baby food and other similar abuses.
It was not until the age of thirteen that Genie’s mother, with her, managed to escape her husband. After a few weeks, he went to the welfare office, and later the police took the girl into his custody. The girl showed speechlessness, malnutrition and behavioral difficulties like compulsive masturbation.
As for Victor d’Avairon and the sisters Amala and Kamala, Genie was then treated by a group of doctors, linguists and psychologists in order to re-educate him and integrate him into society. Genie is the case of a wild child who showed more evolution, being this young woman able to create sentences and connect words, albeit with an incorrect sentence structure.
Although the intervention was somewhat successful, the Mental Health Association of the United States felt that progress was not enough and ultimately decided to suspend the girl’s budget, which would end up going through different adoptive families. Unfortunately, in some of them he also suffered abuse, due to which he suffered a regression to his previous state and stopped speaking again.
Currently Genie lives in an adult care facility, Without more information about her due to ethical considerations regarding her privacy.
Brain plasticity and the critical period
Childhood is a stage of life in which we are particularly sensitive to changes, to the marks that the environment leaves us. This means, among other things, that during the first years of our life we have a unique ability to learn and to detect patterns in all of these experiences that happen to us. This is reflected very well in the way we started to learn and internalize a language, for example; a technically very complicated task that we mastered surprisingly quickly as children.
However, this ability to learn, linked to a neurological phenomenon called brain plasticity, has a double cutoff. Just as in our childhood we are very sensitive to what happens to us, we are also sensitive to what does not happen to us. Specifically, the fact that we have not learned to master the language and to socialize with other human beings who have mastered it means that when we reach an age threshold, the so-called critical period, we become incapable of learn to use the language.
Right now our brain he ceases to have the ability to change in such a profound way as if to internalize such complex learning. In addition, it affects all of our cognitive skills, because in some ways language influences our way of thinking. In the case of feral children, it is clear.
The circumstances surrounding such cases have been the breeding ground for many investigations to determine whether a person raised in isolation could clarify the effect of upbringing and the influence of society or whether characteristics such as language are innate. or acquired. the lives of these children.
Anyway, ethical considerations must always be taken into account a thorough investigation into this phenomenon, as they can seriously harm children and their integrity.
- Hutton, JH (1940): “Wolf Children”. In: Folklore, Transactions of Folklore Society, vol. 51, n.º 1, p. 9-31, London: William Glaisher Ltd., 1940.
- Itard, JMG (1801). From the education of a savage or from the first physical and moral development of a young savage from Aveyron. To study. Paris.
- Lenneberg, EH and Lenneberg, I. (eds.) (1975): Fundamentals of Language Development, Editorial Alliance.
- Rymer, Russ (1999). Goblin: a scientific tragedy. Harper Paperbacks; Edition reissue (January 12, 1994).