Secrets of a Wild Child

Genie was a child who was kept virtually a prisoner. She was held by her parents in a suburb of Arcadia, Los Angeles, California. At thirteen years old, on November 4, 1970, she was discovered and was taken into custody by officials. Genie is not her real name; it has been changed to hide her identity. She was kept in such isolation by her parents she never even learned to talk, walk and eat correctly. She was still even wearing diapers when a social worker discovered her. She had been locked in a room alone for over ten years.

She was tied to a potty chair all day and sometimes all night often forgotten. She was left to sit alone day after day. At night, if not tied to the potty chair, she was tied into a sleeping bag, which restrained her arms. She had an over-sized crib that had a cover made of metal screening. Her mother’s excuse for her condition and treatment was that her husband determined that Genie was retarded. Genie seemed more like an infant than a thirteen year old. Genie was taken to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. There, authorities thought she still might have a normal learning capacity.

Her parents have been charged with child abuse. Unfortunately, her father committed suicide shortly after Genie was found and her mother claimed to be a victim of the abusive father and was not found guilty. First, Genie was placed in at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles a team of scientists known as “the Genie Team” began working with Genie. Genie seemed to present them with the Lent 2 “natural experiment” for answering many questions; such as Noam Chomsky theory of, “Critical Period Hypothesis of language acquisition. Chomsky’s theory states that there is a crucial time in which an individual can acquire a first language. It proposes that the outcome of language acquisition is not uniform or learned over the lifespan but rather is required during early childhood before puberty. Genie had not learned language or heard almost no words in her thirteen years. Because of Genie, condition the University of California Los Angeles received a large grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health to carry out these language studies on Genie. Later and still under the care of Children’s Hospital she oved to the home of Jeanne Butler, one of the hospital’s therapists. Genie’s development continued show improvement in all areas. Butler, while trying to provide Genie with a reasonable home life, began to alienated the researchers and therapist, who had been treating Genie. Butler claimed they were exploiting Genie and turning her into a human guinea pig through daily testing. However, Butler’s application to become Genie’s foster parent was denied. Genie was then moved to the home of Dr. David Rigler and his wife Marilyn.

Rigler also worked at Children’s Hospital. Genie lived with the Riglers for four years. The Riglers tried to meet all the demands of Genie’s research, physical, psychological and therapeutic needs. Genie continued to improve as she went to speech therapy, studied sign language and received psychological help. She was also seen by Susan Curtiss a researcher on Genie‘s team. Curtiss observed and tested Genie almost daily and took her shopping and on other outings, which Genie seemed to enjoy. After four years, the grant for Genie’s language studies was terminated.

Due to a number of reasons, some of which they neglected to document research appropriately and perform test to prescribed standards. The Rigler’s decided that it was not in their or Genie’s best interest to keep her in their foster care. Genie returned to the custody of the state, which in turn gave her back to her mother because she was never charged with abuse. Her mother filed a lawsuit on some of Genie’s researchers and Children’s Lent 3 Hospital. This was settled out of court. Again, Genie was put back into the custody of the state when Genie’s mother could not meet the demands of caring for her.

Genie was placed in several foster homes where she was believed to have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Genie stopped talking and began to regress. Genie was then placed somewhere in California in a group home. Her exact whereabouts have never been publicly disclosed. It goes without saying that Genie’s handling is controversial. Some people felt that the experiments took away any chance for Genie to have a normal life, but the researchers made efforts to give Genie positive social contact by making her part of the researchers families, taking her on outings, and letting her see and explore the world.

Genie did improved which showed she was capable of learning language. However, at the time not much beyond very simple sentences. Some scientists at first thought she might be mentally handicapped. Genie proved to be quite intelligent. She scored perfectly on an adult-level test that measured spatial abilities, and scored the highest recorded results ever on tests that measure a person’s ability to make sense out of chaos and to see patterns.

I feel there were some researchers who did exploit her in the name of science. Overall the results from before she was removed from Children’s Hospital show that she was progressing, meeting goals and was emotionally happy. I believe it sad that today it is too late for us to ever know how much further Genie would have progressed. In my opinion, the blame for Genie outcome lies with the State rather than with Children’s Hospital and Genie’s team of researchers.

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