University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Genie – The Wild Child
Genie was discovered at the age of thirteen living completely isolated in a room in her parent’s house, with nothing to look at, restrained to a potty chair for most of her life. At this time, Genie was still wearing a diaper, did not have the ability to communicate and could barely walk. Her father’s reason for keeping Genie isolated was that he believed that she was retarded from birth. Her mother takes no responsibility, claiming she too was abused by her controlling husband. Both of her parents were charged with child abuse; but her father killed himself shortly after and her mother was able to beat the charges.
Genie was taken to The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles where she would meet several specialist assigned to her case. Shirley, an isolation specialist, stated that Genie was the most extreme case of isolation that he had encountered. Specialist started to run test to diagnose the extent of Genie’s deficiencies. Genie had a strange bunny walk, spat and clawed. It was believed that she was beat for making noise, so she remained silent. Was she born brain dead or did she become mentally challenged? First they conducted a test to monitor the electric activity in her brain.
This four night study showed that Genie had a high number of sleep spindles, which shows abnormal brain wave patterns. By that spring, Genie had learned a hundred words and was beginning to speak verbally; which allowed her to express herself. Signs of her mental and physical growth were striving. She explored things using her lips and face. Doctors showed confidence in her success. Genie moved in with her Special Education teacher, Mrs. Butler. This was Genie’s first run in a foster home. Notes were taken on Genie’s obsession with hoarding objects, especially containers of liquid.
This has also been recorded in other cases of isolated children. Mrs. Butler took it upon herself to cut off all contact with the other members of Genie’s case and filed a request to gain permanent custody, which was rejected by Social Services and Genie returned to Children’s Hospital for a short period of time. Genie was then placed with Mr. Riddler, who took on many of the roles in the case. Mrs. Riddler worked with Genie and taught her how to express her rage through fits, instead of physically hitting herself.
She soon learned to verbally communicate her degree of unhappiness. Mrs. Riddle also helped Genie to verbalize memories from her past. Genie was able to use words and her vocabulary continued to grow. She started going to a nursery school and learned sign language. Case members still disagreed on Genie’s prognoses. Some believed that Genie was still brain dead from birth due to abnormal brain activity; while others believed that she had mental delays due to isolation, showing that her mental age was increasing.
With all of Genie’s verbal achievements, she was not able to make grammatical sentences. In 1975 the research case on Genie ended and she returned to her mother’s care. Soon her mother realized that Genie was too much for her to handle and she was moved from foster family to foster family. Genie faced abuse and harassment during this time. In one situation, Genie was punished for vomiting, resulting in Genie refusing to open her mouth; ultimately, regressing Genie’s progress. Genie’s case strongly sides with the nurture debate.
Emphasis is placed on Genie’s ability to overcome her early environment by allowing her to experience the world and to gain personal relationships. Genie’s ability to learn to verbalize after puberty shows that human development can occur and does not need to be learned during infancy. By Genie gaining personal relationships, she was able to learn how to express her emotions (happy, sad, angry). This proves that her environment is an important factor in her development. This study seems to be most consistent with Skinner’s Behavior Theory.
Skinner believed that a person’s development was caused by the consequences of their behavior. An example would be when Genie was encouraged to speak and socialize, she did and enjoyed it. When Genie was punished for vomiting, she felt that opening her mouth was bad and stopped. Skinner also believed that the nurture side of the debate was important, development depends on experiences and people are shaped by their environment. All of which seem to be a theme in Genie’s case.