In November 1970, a shockingly strange case of a 13-year-old American Feral Child got the attention of the Los Angeles child welfare authorities. It was Genie Wiley who was born in 1957 and became the victim of terrible child abuse, negligence and complete social isolation. In reality, “Genie” is the pseudonym of the victim, and her real name is Susan Wiley.
What Does Feral Child Mean?
There are a number of speculations and definitions of the “Feral Child” or also known as the “Wild Child.” Generally, a “Feral Child” is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and so has had little or no experience of human care, behaviour or human language. It can be due to an accident, fate or even human abuse and cruelty.
One of the earliest English-language accounts of a feral child concerns John of Liège, a boy who supposedly spent most of his youth in isolation in the Belgian wilderness.
Genie The Feral Child:
When Genie was only 20-month-old, her father Mr. Clark Wiley began to keep her locked in the basement which was nothing less than a makeshift cage. She spent all these days in a cold dark room. Most of the time she was either strapped into a child’s toilet or bound to a crib with her arms and legs paralyzed.
Throughout a long time, Genie was not allowed to interact with anyone even with her family members and relatives, and she was also isolated from any kind of incitement. The extent of her isolation prevented her from being exposed to any type of speech, as a result, she did not acquire human language and behaviours during her childhood.
The saddest part is Mr. Wiley didn’t provide her proper foods and liquid. Day by day, Genie became malnourished severely. In fact, this is an example of the extreme form of human cruelty and insensitivity. However, this strange case of “Genie, The Feral Child” has prominently enhanced the knowledge of linguistics and abnormal child psychology.
Psychologists, linguists, and a few scientists initially got the opportunity to study Genie’s case. Upon determining that Genie had not yet learned anything about the language, the linguists started to gain further insight into the processes controlling language acquisition skills and to test theories and hypotheses identifying critical periods during which humans learn to understand and use language.
Their utmost efforts made the thing possible within months, she started communicating through exceptional nonverbal skills and gradually captured the basic social skills. Though she never fully acquired the first language and she still exhibited many behavioural traits and characteristics of an unsocialized person.
Genie’s walk was described as a ‘Bunny Hop’:
In June 1971, she was released from the hospital to live with her teacher, but one and a half a month later, authorities moved her to the family of the scientist who was then leading the research and study on her. She lived there for almost four years. When Genie turned 18, she returned to live with her mother. But after a few months, Genie’s odd behaviours and needs forced her mother to realize that she could not take care of her daughter properly.
Then, authorities came and moved Genie into the first of what would become a series of institutions for disabled adults, and the people running it cut her off from almost everyone she knew and subjected her to extreme physical and emotional abuse. As a result, her physical and mental health severely deteriorated, and her newly acquired language and behavioural skills very rapidly regressed.
Later in January 1978, Genie’s mother forbade all scientific observations and testing of Genie. Little is known about her circumstances since then. Her current whereabouts are uncertain, although she is believed to be living in the care of the state of California.
For years, psychologists and linguists continue to discuss Genie’s case, and there is considerable academic and media interest in her development and the methods or ethics of the scientific studies on Genie. In particular, scientists have compared Genie to Victor of Aveyron, a 19th-century French child who was also the subject of a case study in delayed psychological development and late language acquisition.
Here’s How Genie’s Family Background Pushed Genie’s Life Into Misery:
Genie was the last, and second surviving, of four children born to parents living in Arcadia, California. Her father mostly grew up in orphanages in the American Pacific Northwest who later worked in an aviation factory until he died as the result of a lightning strike. And her mother was from an Oklahoma farming family, had come to southern California as a teenager with family friends fleeing the Dust Bowl.
During her early childhood, Genie’s mother sustained a severe head injury in an accident, giving her lingering neurological damage that caused degenerative vision problems in one eye. She was legally blind which she claimed was the reason why she felt she couldn’t intervene on her daughter’s behalf when she was abused.
Although Genie’s parents initially seemed happy to those who knew them, soon after they married Mr. Wiley prevented his wife from leaving home and beat her with increasing frequency and severity.
Additionally, Mr. Wiley’s mother gave him a feminine first name, which made him the target of constant derision. As a result, he harbored extreme resentment toward his mother during childhood, which Genie’s brother and the scientists who studied Genie believed was the root cause of his subsequent anger problems to abuse and neglect his own daughter.