Methods of working with mentally retarded children

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What happens to a child’s social and intellectual development when they do not have the opportunity to form an attachment to a caregiver? Can the negative effects of privation be reversed? Genie was discovered at the age of 13 when her mother, supposedly mistakenly, took her to a social services office. When she was discovered she was severely undernourished, could methods of working with mentally retarded children stand properly or walk normally, could not understand any language, and could not speak.

Genie had spent the first years of her life imprisoned alone in her bedroom by her father in order to ‘protect’ her as she was ‘mentally retarded’. Genie was a case study the afforded psychologists the overwhelming benefit of providing a unique case to study in extremely rich detail, however it must be remembered that she was just one unique individual and so the findings cannot necessarily be generalised to the whole population. A unique opportunity to study a unique individual in great detail. A unique case that may not be generalisable to the whole population.

It is not known what underlying abnormalities Genie may have had when she was born. Her father stated that she was ‘mentally retarded’, but we only have his word for that. We can never know, therefore, if Genie failed to develop skills in all areas including language because of her privation or because she was born with an underlying learning difficulty. Genie was studied at length by the researchers who adopted her, and she formed a degree of attachment to them.

However it could be argued that they treated her unethically by using her as a research subject instead of simply giving her the love and caring she needed. It is possible that the researchers had their own agendas that were not completely in Genie’s best interests. Can the effects of privation be reversed? Koluchova reported a case study of identical Czechoslovakian twins who were discovered at the age of 7 years. They had been kept locked in isolation in a cellar with only each other for company, and had been mistreated and beaten, and so they had not formed any attachment with any adult caregiver. When they were discovered they had very little speech and communicated mostly in gestures.

After they were discovered they were fostered by two sisters who gave them a loving home. It seems therefore that, given the right sort of loving and caring environment and the opportunity to develop an attachment to a sensitive caregiver, the effects of privation may be reversible. The twins were discovered at the age of 7 which may explain why they recovered from the effects of privation where Genie, who was discovered at the age of 13, did not. The twins were not completely isolated as they had each other. Being able to form an attachment to another person, in this case the other twin rather than a caregiver, may have protected them from some of the negative effects of privation. Although the twins developed to be described as ‘above average’, it is not known how well they may have developed had they not suffered privation, and so it is not known exactly how well the negative effects were reversed. Again, this is a case study of unique individuals and so the findings may not be generalisable to the whole population.