Educating the Retarded
In 1798, a young man who had apparently grown to physical maturity in the wild, without human companionship, suddenly appeared in a French town. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the “noble savage” was popular at the time, and the young man caused great interest. Adjudged retarded, he was given the name Victor and at first placed under the care of the physician, Phillipe Pinel, who specialized in mental disorders. Pinel, however, held the view that “idiocy” was incurable, and the French government subsequently allowed Jean Marc Itard to try to educate Victor. This effort was the first documented attempt at the education of a mentally retarded individual. Itard, who was aware of John Locke’s ideas concerning the intellect as a storehouse, went on to develop the first self-help activities for the retarded. He made skillful use of a system of rewards for performance—a form of positive reinforcement, as it would be called today. Although he had some success with Victor, the young man’s lack of speech development hampered Itard’s work with him. It is unfortunately impossible to judge whether, in today’s terminology, Victor would be called culturally deprived, emotionally disturbed, or just mentally retarded.
KeywordsRetarded Child Special Classroom Retarded Individual Retarded Person Retarded Adult
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