28 May 2009

Wild child mimics animals

A 5-year-old Russian girl has been has placed in state custody after being found alone in an apartment filled with cats and dogs. She was imitating the animals' behaviour.

A 5-year-old Russian girl has been has placed in state custody after being found alone in an apartment filled with cats and dogs and imitating the animals' behaviour.

Police in the Transbaikal region of Siberia said that the girl was kept shut up with the animals in a filthy apartment in the regional capital of Chita, where she lived with relatives, including her father and grandparents.

Larisa Popova, head of the children's affairs unit at the local police precinct, told state-run Rossiya television that the girl had developed feral characteristics. "The child lived in unsanitary conditions. There was a horrible stench," Popova said. "There were many animals - both dogs and cats. In all probability, the girl lived with and was raised by these animals."

More about feral children
The common concern is that feral children may never be socialised or integrated as a well-adjusted individual into normal society.

"Every case is unique," says Health24's CyberShrink, psychiatrist Professor M.A. Simpson. "It depends on many factors, such as the age of the child when he or she was isolated, whether there was a caregiver, whether the child lived in the wild on his or her own, or whether it was cared for by animals."

There are three categories of feral children:

  • Children isolated and incarcerated within households or remote areas by their families, such as this case;
  • Children who survive in the wilderness on their own; and
  • Children supposedly reared by animals.

How does this happen?
There seem to be some common threads running through these stories.

In the case of isolation or incarceration, the pattern is of parents feeling a sense of shame with regard to the child (due to illegitimacy, physical or mental disabilities); or of the child having serious behavioural problems that make life difficult for the caregivers. Another thread is that caregivers are mentally ill, or suffer from emotional problems.

"This situation never arises in a normal, happy family," says Simpson. "The parent or caregiver justifies isolation by creating a specific scenario or story, often with built-in threats ('if you tell anyone, I will go to jail and you will starve to death', or 'the world is a very dangerous place and people will kill you')."

Fact and fiction
"The topic of feral children is a difficult one to study, as it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in many cases. There have also been several instances of hoaxes," says Simpson.

Still, we can be sure there are some dispiriting truths. "Children who are isolated, or deprived of human contact, are not going to learn normal behavioural patterns and their development is also likely to be severely hampered.” Children, whose movement has been limited, suffer from a condition called psycho-social dwarfism. They tend to grow rapidly when removed from their parental homes.

Some also suffer from neurological impairment, although it is often difficult to confirm definitively that this is the result of their painful experiences.

"They may have learnt animal behaviours in certain cases, which explains why these children hardly ever smile or make eye contact with humans," says Simpson.

Children living with animals also have very specific dietary preferences – often for only one or two types of food, which could not satisfy their nutritional needs. A condition called hypertrichosis (exceptionally hairiness) is also found now and then among this group.

"There also seems to be a time limit on learning certain things, such as language," says Simpson.

The prognosis is a sad one: a lack of human contact and interaction often stunts a child for life. Many of these children never learn to speak or interact normally. And they tend to die young. - (Sapa/Susan Erasmus, Health24, May 2009)





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