Every special ed teacher knows about Jean Itard and his famous pupil, the Wild Boy of Aveyron. Quick version: 1798, France, a boy of 11 or 12 is discovered living alone in the wild. He’s filthy, walks on all fours, has no language, eats acorns and mushrooms. The boy is captured and sent to Dr. Itard, who believes he can civilize and educate the boy, whom he names Victor.
Itard is considered the granddaddy of special education because he devised methods for instructing such a severely impaired student at a time when no one else would have tried. It wasn’t clear whether Victor was so impaired because he’d lived outside of human society or whether he’d been abandoned and left for dead by his family because he was abnormal.
The other night I watched Francois Truffaut’s film about Itard and Victor, The Wild Child. It’s fascinating (in spite of Truffaut’s unfortunately casting himself in the role of Itard. Dude could direct but he sure couldn’t act). In the film Victor struck me as autistic, though such a classification didn’t exist in the 18th century. Of course the movie is just a movie, but Itard’s notes do mention some of what would now be recognized as autistic symptoms, like a rigid insistence on keeping objects in their places.
In case you are now wondering, Victor made remarkable progress for a time, but eventually reached a plateau where Itard could not teach him anymore. He never learned to speak or read more than a few words, and he stayed with the woman who cared for him until his death around age 40. (That’s not a spoiler. The movie only covers a few months of Victor’s life in civilization.)
NEW OLD GAMES
The AIDS house at which I work often receives fun donations like board games. Most of the residents, however, have AIDS dementia and are not capable of playing complicated games. That’s how I came to be the lucky recipient of an ancient Asian game called Go, and a marvelous Mah Jongg set.
I don’t know how to play either game. Some of my buddies in college played Go obsessively and insisted it was way more challenging than chess, but I never sat down and played it. My grandmother and the old Jewish ladies she hung out with played Mah Jongg, but she never taught the game to me.
Both games are intact and even contain the original instructions, so we Rabbits should be Go and Mah Jongg experts by the end of summer.
TR DISPLAYS A WEAKNESS
I often encourage, nay, require, my children to declutter their rooms, a process we call “boogie-ing.” I’m generally quite ruthless. If it’s cheap junk from some birthday party goodie bag, it goes. If you haven’t played with it since god-knows-when, toss it. If it’s designed for children three years younger than you are, out with it. The girls actually enjoy going through their stuff, finding treasures they’d forgotten they had, and gathering bags of toys to give away to one of the charities that collects cast-offs. Little Bit especially likes to imagine some deprived child getting a bag full of toys thanks to her generosity.
So today I was packing up the stuff the kids had boogied, and there were the fairies. Soft fairy dolls, eight of them, with groovy hairstyles and wings and beguiling expressions. How Tigger used to love fairies. She would walk around the backyard, going from shrub to shrub, whispering to every insect she saw, “are you really a fairy?” Both girls enjoyed constructing houses for fairies out of any materials they could find. Leaves, twigs, pinecones, and a variety of household items. Little Bit still believes in the Tooth Fairy, even though she told Tigger she once pretended to be asleep and saw me take the tooth and leave the loot. She was dreaming, of course.
Both children insisted they were done with the fairy dolls, but I couldn’t put them in the give-away bags. I just couldn’t. I may keep them forever to remind me of my little fairy-loving girls.