In the year 1800, in a village located in the French province Aveyron, a child gained a lot of popularity among the villagers. Many considered him a savage beast because he was searching and digging for roots, he climbed trees, and didn’t walk in a biped position. It seems that he was about 12 years old. He became popular and people all over came to see the “oddity”. He couldn’t speak, he had a lot of scars on his body, and he had weird food preferences. Soon he was taken for study. He was called Victor and he was a feral child.
Feral children (are also called wild children) are human children who have lived isolated from human contact from a very young age.
Victor seemed to ignore any form of civilization that was offered to him: he ripped his clothes apart, he didn’t eat meat, he preferred raw potatoes, roots, and nuts. He was not making any sounds and he was indifferent to human voice. He was also accustomed to exposure to cold and when a biology professor Piere Joseph Bonnaterre took him outside in the snow, the child started playing and running nude. Our perception of cold and warmth is mostly based on the experience we have, so it seems that Victor was used to cold weather and he probably spent his life outside.
Apparently Victor lived all his early childhood alone, he was a stranger to social norms and something about him made him closer to his animal status. A lot of people hoped that he was going to offer answers regarding the true nature of human beings, a subject that was highly disputed by philosophers in that time. There were questions that needed to be answered: What makes us different from animals? What would happen if we would be raised totally isolated from the human society? How much do we owe to education in the process of our upbringing?
Another thing people thought was the fact that the boy had to have a noble character; this would have proved the theory that children were born good, but they are corrupted by society. However, instead of a good child, he wasn’t adapted to society, he couldn’t walk in a biped position and he couldn’t talk. So there was no way to see if he was good or bad. Doctors concluded that he was mental retarded and recommended putting him into an asylum.
Jean-Marc Itard did not agree with the diagnostic and argued that the deficiencies were caused by his social isolation. Because he was away from humans he couldn’t have developed social skills, but he was an extraordinary being because he had the ability to survive on his own. Itard personally took care of the child, wanting to show that the environment is the one that influences human behavior. He started publishing reports on his progress and it seemed that Victor showed significant progress in understanding language and reading simple words; however, this was only at a very low level. When it came to emotions, he had affection for the people who took care of him but he couldn’t communicate and he spoke just a few words. He had no sexual interests and he didn’t manage to adapt to social life. The fact that he showed affection was an amazing thing and there’s a record about one event: the housekeeper was mourning the loss of her husband when Victor showed a sympathetic behavior towards her.
Throughout the years Itard spent working with the boy, he managed to obtain some small gradual progress. It seems that Victor understood the meaning of actions and used an “action language” which is a more primitive form of communication.
Most doctors reached the conclusion that he had mental deficiencies after all but this is not certain. He was sent to live with a woman and died in 1828.
Itard created new methods of diagnostic for mental and language abilities and combined these procedures with a program of instruction. He became the founder of “oral education of the deaf” the field called otolaryngology.
The subject of feral children is still controversial nowadays; some people believe that there are no genuine feral children. Others believe that the child suffered from autism or schizophrenia.