A feral child is a child who has been raised without the socialization obtained in the “civilized” world; as such, the child does not know the concept of language, human care, or social behavior and other things attributed to children raised in a human society/household. This thus not necessarily mean that all children are raised by wild animals, or self-raised; they may instead simply be severely isolated.
Genie was such a case. For the first 12 years of her life, her father kept her strapped to a potty chair in a dark room, with only a plastic raincoat to stare at. Some nights, she was bound in a sleeping bag and put to sleep in a metal-cased crib. Whenever she tried to verbalize, she would be beaten by her father. He would bark and growl at her to scare her into submission. Her brother and mother were forced to remain in the house and, sometimes, weren’t allowed to speak either; they were especially forbidden to socialize with Genie.
By the time her mother actually left her husband, with Genie, she was 13 years old and had a vocabulary of 20 words, which were mostly negative and were remnants of her struggles against her father’s abuse. When she was taken to a foster home, she was initially thought to be 6 years old and autistic. She walked with her hands outstretched in front of her like claws and didn’t learn to smile until she was with her second foster family, where she slowly began learning to interact. However, research interest in her dimmed and she was shifted around several foster homes, none of which could care for her adequately. She was abused for vomiting in one of the households, and as a defense mechanism and out of fear, refused to open her mouth for fear of vomiting. She had regressed back to silence.
She was born in 1957. As of 2008, she is a ward of the state. No one knows much about her, what her name is now, or where she lives.
It goes to show what isolation can do to a person; this is why solitary confinement drives so many prisoners insane. It’s a terrible thing to do to a person and it’s an even more abhorrent thing that a parent could do that to their own child. This is an incredible sociolinguistic case though, but it makes me so, so sad that her degeneration was caused by a lack of funding in the research. Imagine what more we could have learnt; more importantly, imagine how much more she could have grown. I really hope Genie’s doing well, wherever she is.
Apparently there’s a movie based on her life called Mockingbird Don’t Sing. Definitely on my to-watch list!