A feral child refers to an individual who has been raised in complete isolation, devoid of any contact with other individuals from a young age. Consequently, they lack comprehension or awareness of human behavior, caregiving, and communication.
Throughout history, there have been numerous cases of feral children, dating back to the 14th century. These children were either kept in captivity by humans or believed to have been nurtured by animals.
This essay explores three modern cases of feral children and an isolate, and examines the impact of their brain development on language and behavior. One such case is John Ssebunya, who was discovered in 1991 by Milly Sebba while he was searching the forest for firewood. After being brought back to a local village, John Ssebunya was given food and subsequently identified by a villager as the missing child, last seen in 1988 at the age of two or three. His mother had been murdered by his alcoholic father, who then disappeared.
John is believed to have fled to the forest at the age of 2-5 and lived uncivilized for the following three years. He has vague memories of encountering green African Vervet monkeys, who eventually accepted him into their society. However, once John was found, his father was located but showed no interest in taking care of his untamed son.
The boy, who is believed to be a genuine feral child, was adopted by Paul and Molly Warsaw. They run the Kamuzinda Christian Orphanage in Masaka. Numerous experts have studied him and are convinced of his feral upbringing. According to John, the boy, the monkeys were initially suspicious of him but eventually accepted him as one of their own. Within approximately two weeks, they taught him how to travel with them, search for food, and climb trees. However, some scientists and sociologists argue that John was not actually raised by the monkeys but rather grew up in their presence.
The Green African Vervet monkey is distinct among mammals in its capacity to tolerate solitary individuals from different groups. According to sociologists, John, who witnessed the murder of his mother, was tolerated by the group but not completely embraced as a member. It is believed that John experiences some mental impairment due to this traumatic event. Furthermore, his decision to run away indicates that he possesses certain language abilities. When discovered by women from the local tribe, John was unable to shed tears or utter words.
John has undergone local rehabilitation, which has led to limited and hesitant speech. His cognitive impairment is attributed to his upbringing and lack of early human interaction. Sociologists and psychotherapists have analyzed John’s brain development and identified delays in his oral language skills, struggles with learning social norms, and problems with problem-solving. John possesses the intellectual capabilities of a kindergarten student and is not anticipated to experience any improvement in these areas throughout his life.
Amala and Kamala, also known as “the wolf girls,” are widely recognized as one of the most famous instances of feral children. When they were discovered, Amala was just 18 months old, while Kamala was eight years old, and they were found cohabiting in a den with wolves. Following their discovery, the two girls were taken to an orphanage, displaying complete resemblance to wolves and lacking any discernible human attributes.
They rejected wearing clothes and solely consumed uncooked meat. Their activity was restricted to night time. Due to their prolonged time spent on all fours, their ligaments and joints had deteriorated to the extent that they were unable to straighten their legs and attempt walking upright. Amala passed away a year later due to sickness, while Kamala managed to survive. Despite efforts from many to rehabilitate Kamala, progress was only minimal.
Despite undergoing intense rehabilitation for 5 years, Kamala’s knowledge remained extremely limited. She was only familiar with a few names and the concept of color. Kamala’s intellectual capacity was equivalent to that of a 12-month-old baby. Regrettably, Kamala was selected for examination by the Philologist Society of New York, which caused her physical health to decline.
Genie, who had been locked in an isolated room in her parent’s house for 12 years, was discovered in 1970 when she was around 13 years old. The discovery was made after her 50-year-old mother applied for social assistance.
Authorities immediately contacted the police upon seeing Genie. Genie’s father would physically assault her with a large stick whenever she made any sound, and he would also mimic dog-like behavior by barking and growling at her to keep her quiet. Moreover, he rarely permitted his wife and son to leave the house or communicate with Genie. Consequently, by the time she turned 13, Genie had become almost completely mute, with a limited vocabulary comprising approximately 20 words and a handful of negative phrases, such as “stop it” and “no more.”
After being rescued, Genie remained silent for some time. Later, she was taught to communicate using sign language. During her time in captivity, she had limited access to toys or objects for stimulation and spent most of her time in a dark room, fixated on a yellow plastic raincoat. Genie lacked emotional expression and seemed disconnected from her humanity. Therapists and other professionals hoped to help her develop a sense of normalcy.
Genie’s case supports psychologists in substantiating the truth of the critical period hypothesis. During a significant part of her life, Genie was subjected to an environment lacking emotional nurturing, resulting in her seemingly emotionless demeanor throughout her lifetime. In my opinion, children who are isolated face greater challenges compared to feral children raised by animals.
John Ssebunya, Amala, and Kamala surpassed Genie in terms of progress. Unlike Genie, who mainly focused on limited and negative communication, John Ssebunya, Amala, and Kamala possessed emotions and the ability to learn emotions. In contrast, Genie lacked emotions and typically maintained a neutral expression.
In my opinion, the greater the lack of human interaction and emotional neglect one experiences, the more challenging it becomes to progress. The years of childhood are crucial for both physical and mental development.