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Warning: This blog post contains topics that people may find distressing.
Genie endured the severe child abuse reported in history. Genie was bound in a dark room with closed windows, all she received was mistreatment and indifference from her father, Clark Wiley. Can a child develop language, if he or she is raised in isolation and abuse? Is it possible to erase the traumatising childhood by offering a loving environment later in life?
Clark’s mother managed a brothel while only occasionally visiting him. Clark and Dorothy married on September 28, 1944. He inhibited his wife from leaving home and beat her. She was increasingly dependent on her husband because of her worsening eyesight from the neurological impairment and the outset of drastic cataracts.
On August 19, 1948, the first child was born. Clark was sensitive to noise, so he left the infant in the garage. The infant developed pneumonia and died. On September 15, 1949, a son was born but died from genetic birth complications. On March 11, 1952, John was born. Clark told Dorothy to keep him silent. Dorothy’s mother decided to take John when he was 4 years old but was returned to his parents.
When Genie was born, she had a hip problem which required her to wear a brace until she was one year old. At 20 months old, a doctor mentioned that Genie seemed unsound mind and at this point, her father harshly confined and abused in order to shield her. The abuse and angry towards Genie escalated after a drunk driver killed his mother in 1958. Genie was strapped to a potty, wearing a straightjacket which restricted her from moving her arms for 13 hours every day. He fed her cereal, liquids, baby food and soft-boiled eggs. He disallowed her to sob or talk and he would hit her with a bat and growl and bark at her like a dog. At night, she was placed into a sleeping bag and left in a crib.
In October 1970, John ran away from home and lived like a “dead man.” On November 4, 1970, Dorothy decided to apply for disability benefits for the blind and brought Genie with her, but she accidentally entered the general social services office. The staff assumed Genie had autism. They realised that she was unable to talk. Wiley was arrested for child abuse and he took his life in the morning before his trial.
The National Institute of Mental Health invested funds for the scientific research on Genie. Therapist David Rigler and physician James Kent were assigned to her. They discovered she had two nearly complete sets of teeth and salivated and spat. She could not chew, swallow or fully focus her eyes on objects more than 10 feet away and she enlarged callus and heavy bruising on her buttocks, deformed and undersized hips and ribcage. She was 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 meters) tall and weighed 59 pounds (27 kg). She was not able to stand up straight and had a “bunny walk” because she could not connect with her sight and touch.
At the hospital, she received love and support that had a vital impact on her. She preferred listening to classical music on the piano and loved to draw, which was her means of communication. She enjoyed spending time outside, intrigued by new sounds and moving objects. Her favourite toys were buckets or plastic container. Genie urinated and defecated when she felt stressed so she required the use of a diaper and showed no recognition of very hot or very cold temperatures which is majorly determined by life experiences. Genie developed inappropriate sexual behaviour possibly because her father subjected her to sexual abuse.
In 1974, the National Institute of Mental Health withdrew the funds due to the limited scientific evidence. She was taken in by David Rigler and his wife. Dorothy’s eyesight was restored after the corrective cataract surgery. In 1975, her mother wanted to take her but soon realised that it was a huge responsibility. In January 1978, Dorothy prevented the research team from seeing Genie. Genie was placed in four or six foster homes between 1978 and early 1990s where she suffered physical and mental abuse. Sadly, she regressed back into silence and depression and also feared to open her mouth because she was brutally punished for vomiting in one of the homes.
Many scientists and carers loved her and probably used her for their own success. Genie’s therapeutic treatment was continuously disrupted by forcing her to learn a language. Her mother was not the best parent but it was her action that led her daughter to be rescued. Currently, Genie resides in an adult foster care home.
Mockingbird Don’t Sing was an independent movie based on Genie’s life. Susan Wiley’s life established that there is a specific window of opportunity that states when a person is competent to be fairly fluent in a language.
Thank you for reading, fellow humans 🙂