If you ever take a Psychology class or get into a conversation about feral children, Genie’s name will probably come up. For 13 years she was locked inside a room and strapped to her potty chair, other times she was bound in a sleeping bag and put inside a crib. Her father, the one behind the abuse, would hit her with a stick if she ever spoke and he would bark and growl at her to keep her quiet. He also forbade his other children and even his wife from speaking. Because of this, Genie had a very small vocabulary, consisting of about 20 words. The phrases she did know included “stop it” and “no more.” She was discovered in 1970 and today she is considered to be one of the worst cases of social isolation known. She was often thought to be autistic until doctors found out she was really 13 and was a victim of abuse.
She was taken to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she was treated for years. After some treatment, she was able to answer questions in one-word answers and she learned how to dress herself. However, she still held onto her learned behavior, including a “bunny walk” where she held her hands up in front of her as if they were paws. She also scratched and even clawed at things. Though she was moved around a lot, she found home with her therapist David Rigler for 4 years, who worked with her daily. He and his family taught Genie sign language as well as ways to express herself without speaking; drawing was a method. Genie then went to live with her mother, and then abusive foster parents, which then caused her to become mute again and afraid to speak. Today she is living somewhere in Southern California.