A Study of a Subnormal Child

Vinnie Crandall Hicks
1911 The Elementary School Teacher  
Many teachers have had neither training nor experience in the recognition of subnormality among their pupils. They find a certain child failing to comprehend the work given to him, failing to enter into the group life of his classmates, yet they have no comprehension of the special problem which such a child presents. In consequence of this ignorance on their part, the .child may be advanced from one grade to another as the years pass by, because his teachers are unwilling to keep him longer
more » ... he grows too large to remain among little children. When, at fifteen or sixteen, he may have reached the fifth grade, his instructors and even his parents begin to realize that there is something radically wrong. This realization years before would have saved much misdirected effort. It is with this lack among our teachers in mind that the following description of a defective child has been written. The child chosen was not one rendered backward by any sensedeprivation, nor was he a case of congenital idiocy, but one whose outward appearance betokened little of his mental incompetence; just such a case, in fact, as might appear in the room of any teacher who reads this. R. was eleven, rather stocky, and of very low stature, an inheritance from his parents. His head was of decidedly brachiocephalic type, but showed no noticeable asymmetry. The only facial peculiarities evident to the ordinary observer were a peculiar use of the eyes and a lack of expression. Contrary to the rule with many of the mentally defective, his hands were small and very delicate in form. He had the carriage and gait of an old man, though not troubled by either lameness or deformity. He stood habitually with the right knee bent and forward. This 296 A STUDY OF A SUBNORMAL CHILD had raised the left hip higher than the right. He had a clear, healthy skin, good teeth, good circulation, and seemed well nourished. His voice was low, harsh, and guttural, and he rarely varied from a monotone in speaking or singing. He had a peculiar closed utterance between his teeth, and was inclined to be slovenly in his enunciation. When I began work with him about four months ago, he had no real knowledge of numbers at all. He could add like numbers up to fives just as he could repeat a Mother Goose rhyme, and he could often add I to a number under 10 in very much the same way. His writing was a rather pretty, round backhand but with little sense of line or proportionate letter heights. Nor did he know all of his capitals. He was as good a speller orally as an ordinary fourth-grade child, with the possible exception that his experience of words was not so large. In reading he knew only the word wholes which had been matters of frequent experience with him. Other words he had to construct orally and yet had little knowledge of phonetics to help him. His method of getting at a strange word was something like this: he would spell the word aloud, cast about in his mind for wo.rds familiar to him which began or ended similarly, try these, mentally comparing their spelling with what he saw before him, and so with the help of the context, he often made out the new word. But words which it would take him ten minutes to figure out when he was not interested in the story, he would recognize at once if the story happened to suit. The same phenomenon was noticeable in his reading in general. Only a most interesting and simply constructed story would hold his attention. Even with what seemzed to be the best will in the world he wandered in his gaze, lost his place, and only with great difficulty concentrated enough to find it again. It might take him three-quarters of an hour to read an ordinary first-reader page, and his gaze would wander to all parts of the open book, or even of the room, a dozen times in a single paragraph. This gives briefly his ability as a student of books when I began my work with him. He had been sent to public school at eight, but had to be taken out because he did not respond at 297
doi:10.1086/454037 fatcat:ilw274fmtbbhpaxcqhtlj5dzsq