Genie - The Los Angeles Feral Child


Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation, making hers one of the most well-known cases recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology. Born in Arcadia, California, Genie was locked alone in a room for most of her first thirteen years, usually strapped to a child's toilet or bound in a crib with her arms and legs immobilized. During this time she was almost never spoken to, and as a result did not acquire a first language. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.

In the first several years after Genie's life and circumstances came to light, psychologists, linguists and other scientists focused a great deal of attention on Genie's case, seeing in her near-total isolation an opportunity to study many aspects of human development. Upon finding that she had not learned a language, linguists saw Genie as an important way to gain further insight into acquisition of language skills and linguistic development. Scrutiny of their new-found human subject enabled them to publish academic works testing theories and hypotheses identifying critical periods during which humans learn to understand and use language.

Upon being removed from her parents' house, Genie gradually started to acquire and develop new language skills. On broader levels her language development followed some normal patterns of young children acquiring a first language, but researchers noted many marked differences with her language acquisition. The size of Genie's vocabulary and the speed with which she expanded it consistently outstripped both researchers' anticipations, and many of the earliest words she learned and used were focused on observable properties of people or objects, very different from those of a typical first-language learner. However, she had far more difficulty with acquisition of basic grammar and syntax, resulting in her vocabulary being much more advanced and sophisticated than most people in equivalent phases of learning and using these rules, and her acquisition of them remained far slower than normal.In addition, tests on her brain found discrepancies far larger than any prior observations of people with fully intact brains, which affirmed existing postulations on brain lateralization and gave rise to many new hypotheses on lateralization and its effect on language.

Genie's case has been compared extensively with that of Victor of Aveyron, an eighteenth-century French child who similarly became a classic case of late language acquisition and delayed development.

After her rescue, Genie was cared for initially at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Her subsequent placements eventually gave rise to rancorous debate. After approximately eight months at Children's Hospital, she was moved to one foster home for a month; the first of several moves. Upon removal she was then placed with the scientist heading the research team studying her, where she lived for almost four years and where most of the testing and research on her was conducted. Soon after turning 18 she went back to live with her mother, who could not adequately care for her; after a few months she was then placed in a series of at least six institutions for disabled adults, where she experienced further physical and emotional abuse. Cut off from almost all of the people who had studied her, her newly-acquired language and behavioral skills regressed rapidly.

As of 2008 ABC News reported that Genie was living in California "in psychological confinement as a ward of the state — her sixth foster home. And again, she is speechless."