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Feral Children: The Story of Genie, a Child Kept in Extreme Isolation

Feral children are children who have grown up with minimal human contact, or even none at all. Besides children being raised in the “natural state” provided by the wild, there are also many cases of children who were raised or kept in extreme isolation. This is the story of Genie.

Genie was found in California in 1970. She was thirteen when she came to the attention of authorities. From the age of twenty months, she had been kept in a small room in her parents’ house. She had never been out of the room; she was kept naked and restrained to a kind of potty-chair by a harness her father had designed. She could move only her hands and feet. The psychotic father, who apparently hated children, forbade her almost blind mother to speak to the child. (He had put another child, born earlier, in the garage to avoid hearing her cry, and she died there of pneumonia at two months of age.) Genie was fed only milk and baby food during her thirteen years.

When the girl was found, she weighed only 59 pounds. She could not straighten her arms or legs. She did not know how to chew. She could not control her bladder or bowels. She could not recognize words or speak at all. According to the mother’s report — the father killed himself soon after Genie was discovered — Genie appeared to have been a normal baby.

Over the next six years, Genie had plenty of interactions with the world, as well as training and testing by psychologists. She gained some language comprehension and learned to speak at about the level of a 2- or 3-year-old: “want milk,” “two hand.” She learned to use tools, draw, and connect cause-and-effect in some situations. And she could get from one place to another — to the candy counter in the supermarket, for example — proving that she could construct mental maps of space. Her IQ score on nonverbal tests was a low-normal 74 in 1977. But her language did not develop further, and she made types of language errors that even normal 2-year-olds never make.

Watch the videos below for 10 more cases of feral children…
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