Genie (feral child)
The first publicly released picture of Genie, taken just after California authorities discovered her at the age of 13.
|Born||1957 (age 55–56)
|Known for||Victim of severe abuse
Research subject in language acquisition
Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are recorded prominently in the annals of abnormal child psychology. Born in Arcadia, California, Genie was locked alone in a room from the age of 20 months to 13 years, 7 months, almost always strapped to a child's toilet or bound in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized. During this time she was never exposed to any significant amount of speech, and as a result she did not acquire a first language. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.
In the first several years after Genie's life and circumstances came to light, psychologists, linguists and other scientists focused a great deal of attention on Genie's case, seeing in her near-total isolation an opportunity to study many aspects of human development. Upon finding that she had not learned language as a child, linguists saw Genie as potentially being an important way to gain further insight into the processes controlling language acquisition skills and linguistic development. Extensive observation of their new-found human subject enabled them to publish multiple academic works testing theories and hypotheses identifying critical periods during which humans learn to understand and use language.
After her rescue Genie was cared for initially at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and her subsequent placements eventually gave rise to rancorous debate. After approximately eight months at Children's Hospital, she was moved to one foster home for a month and a half; the first of several moves. Upon removal she was then placed in the home of the scientist heading the research team studying her, where she lived for approximately four years and where most of the testing and research on her was conducted. Soon after turning 18 she went back to live with her mother, who could not adequately care for her; after a few months she was then placed in a series of at least six institutions for disabled adults, where she experienced further physical and emotional abuse. Cut off from almost all of the people who had studied her, her newly acquired language and behavioral skills very rapidly regressed. As of 2008[update] ABC News reported that Genie was living in California, "in psychological confinement as a ward of the state — her sixth foster home. And again, she is speechless."
Genie's case has been compared extensively with that of Victor of Aveyron, an eighteenth-century French child who similarly became a classic case of late language acquisition and delayed development.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Hospital stay
- 3 First foster home
- 4 Second foster home
- 5 Loss of funding and research interest
- 6 Early adulthood
- 7 Current
- 8 Media
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 Citations
- 12 Sources and further reading
Genie was the fourth and last child of parents living in Arcadia, California. Her father worked in a factory as a flight mechanic during World War II and got a job in the aviation industry after the war ended; her mother had come to southern California as a teenager with family friends fleeing the Dust Bowl. Neither one of them had any meaningful education. Her mother's family and friends had strongly opposed their marriage because Genie's father was twenty years older than her mother. The couple seemed happy to most who knew them, but others thought of Genie's father as something of a distant loner. Her mother began suffering increasingly frequent beatings at his hands, which progressively became more severe. Genie's mother already had vision problems, the result of neurological damage from a childhood accident. After she married, her eyesight started more rapidly deteriorating due to the pre-existing damage, severe cataracts and a detached retina. Her diminishing vision forced her to become increasingly dependent on her husband.
From the outset of their relationship, Genie's father made it very clear that he neither liked children nor wanted to have any. Still, after about five years of marriage his wife became pregnant. Genie's father continued to beat her through her pregnancy, and near the end apparently attempted to beat and strangle her to death. She was in the hospital recovering from this when she went into labor, but gave birth to a daughter who appeared to be healthy. Disturbed by the girl's crying, her father placed her in the garage; as a result, at 10 weeks old she died of pneumonia. Their second child was a boy diagnosed with Rh incompatibility who died at two days of age, allegedly from choking on his own mucus. Another son was born three years later, once again with Rh incompatibility. His father forced his wife to keep their son quiet as much as possible, and likely as a result was slow to develop and late to walk and to talk. When he was four, his paternal grandmother grew concerned about her son's increasing instability and took over her grandson's care; he made good progress with her for several months before eventually being returned to his parents. Around the time Genie was born, her father began to isolate himself and his family from those around them.
Genie's birth was a standard Caesarean section with no complications. The next day, showing signs of Rh incompatibility, she required a blood transfusion, but she was otherwise a healthy weight and size. A medical appointment at three months showed that she was gaining weight normally, but found a congenital hip dislocation which required her to use a highly restrictive Frejka splint from the age of four and half to eleven months. Due to the splint Genie was late to walk, and researchers believed this led Genie's father to start speculating that she was mentally retarded. At subsequent appointments, up until the age of 11 months, records indicate that she was alert and sitting up on her own, but falling behind in weight gain; at birth she had been in the 50th percentile for weight, but at 11 months she was down to the 11th percentile. Genie's mother later recalled that Genie was not a cuddly baby, did not babble much, and resisted solid food, but at the age of six months she was reportedly in overall good condition and, "taking food well." She further stated that at some point, Genie begun to say some individual words.[A]
When Genie was 14 months old, she came down with a fever and was taken to a pediatrician. Upon examining her, the doctor said that although her illness prevented a definitive diagnosis there was a possibility that she was mentally retarded. He also suggested that the brain dysfunction kernicterus might be present; Rh incompatibility is a significant risk factor for kernicterus, and severe cases can lead to serious brain damage. Her father took this opinion to mean that Genie was severely retarded, using it as justification for isolating and abusing her.
Six months later, when Genie was 20 months old, her paternal grandmother was killed when a pickup truck ran her over in a hit-and-run traffic accident. As a child, Genie's father was not very close to his mother, having had limited contact with her while mostly growing up in orphanages. During most of his adult life, they constantly argued about her unsuccessful efforts to convince him to adopt a less rigid lifestyle. However, according to Genie's mother and brother, her father was almost singularly fixated on his mother, always treating his marriage as ancillary, at best. He already had difficulty controlling his anger, and his mother's death deeply affected him; when the truck's driver subsequently received only a probationary sentence for both manslaughter and drunk driving, he became nearly delusional with rage. He then quit his job and further increased the family's isolation. They moved into the two-bedroom house his mother had been living in, and left her bedroom untouched as a shrine to her. Genie was increasingly confined to the second bedroom, while the rest of the family slept downstairs in the living room.
From the time Genie was born her father had displayed hostility toward her, strongly discouraging his wife and son from paying her any attention. His instability had steadily increased after she was born, and researchers later speculated that his mother's death, and the outcome of the subsequent trial, made him feel as if the outside world had completely failed him. This convinced him that he would need to protect his family from the outside world. He still thought that Genie was severely retarded and would therefore need his additional protection, and believed the best way to provide this for her was to hide her existence entirely.
During the day, Genie was tied to a child's toilet in a makeshift harness which, according to Genie's brother, their father had forced his wife to make. The harness was designed to function like a straitjacket to prevent her from moving her arms or legs, and while in it Genie wore only diapers and could only move her extremities. At night, when her father remembered her, she was bound in a sleeping bag and placed in a crib with a metal-screen cover, her arms and legs immobilized. Researchers concluded that, if Genie vocalized or made any other noise, her father beat her with a large plank he kept in her room. To keep her quiet he would bare his teeth and bark and growl at her like a wild dog, sometimes making Genie's brother do this as well, and he grew his fingernails out to scratch her. If he suspected her of doing something he did not like he would make these noises outside the door to intimidate her, and beat her if he believed she had continued to do it. The exact reason for his dog-like behavior was never definitively discerned, but at least one scientist who studied Genie speculated he may have viewed himself as a guard dog and was acting out the role. This instilled an intense fear of cats and dogs in Genie that persisted long after she was freed. Doctors were also unable to completely rule out the possibility of Genie's father subjecting her to sexual abuse, although they never uncovered any definite evidence of it either.
Apart from her father's beatings, Genie's only meaningful human interaction occurred during the few minutes when she was being fed. She was not given any solid food; instead, she was fed baby food, cereal, pablum, an occasional soft-boiled egg, and liquids. Food was spooned into her mouth as quickly as possible, and if she choked or could not swallow fast enough it would be rubbed into her face. Although Genie's mother claimed Genie was fed three times a day, she also said that when hungry Genie would risk a beating by making noise to get attention, leading researchers to believe Genie's father often refused to feed her. Bowing to pressure to keep contact with his sister to a minimum, her brother was often forced to feed her in this manner. The few minutes per day she was being fed were normally the only times Genie's father allowed his wife to be with Genie, but she could not feed Genie herself. Later she claimed that, when possible, at around 11 PM she surreptitiously tried to feed Genie; this led to Genie developing an unusual sleep pattern, which continued for several months even after she was freed. Once, when Genie was suffering from constipation, her father forced her to drink an entire bottle of castor oil. The ensuing effect on her health was so serious that Genie's father allowed a doctor to examine her, and she ultimately barely survived.[B]
The only sensory stimulation Genie experienced from outside her home came by way of two windows, through which she could hear some traffic noises and see both the side of a neighboring house and a couple inches of sky, and could also occasionally hear birds and airplanes flying over the house. Even these stimuli were extremely limited, as the windows were almost entirely blacked out and the house was well away from the street. On rare occasions, her father would also allow her to play with plastic food containers, old spools of thread, TV Guides with many of the illustrations cut out, and two plastic raincoats. He had an extremely low tolerance for noise, to the point of refusing to have a working television or radio in the house. He almost never allowed Genie's mother or brother to speak, and viciously beat them if he heard them talking; their conversations were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie's earshot. They were particularly forbidden to speak to or around Genie, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful amount of language besides her father's occasional swearing. He almost never permitted anyone to leave the house, only allowing Genie's brother to go to and from school; even he had to prove his identity before entering the house, as Genie's father wanted to be absolutely sure the family was completely isolated. To discourage disobedience, he frequently sat in the living room with a shotgun in his lap. He did not allow anyone else in the house, and at night would frequently leave the outside lights on to help prevent anyone else from coming; in case someone did come, he always kept his gun nearby.
Genie's mother was almost completely blind by this time, and was essentially passive by nature to begin with. Her husband threatened to kill her if she attempted to contact her parents, close friends who lived nearby, or the police. He also forced Genie's brother into silence, giving him instructions on how to keep his father's actions secret and beating him more often and more severely as he grew older. Genie's brother felt completely powerless to do anything to stop his father, as he knew his mother could not put up any resistance and feared severe retribution for attempting to intervene. Completely convinced that Genie would die by age 12 her father promised that, if she survived past that age, he would allow his wife to seek outside assistance. When Genie turned 12 he reneged on that promise, and Genie's mother took no action for another year.
In late October 1970, Genie's mother and father had a violent argument in which she threatened to leave if she could not call her parents. He eventually relented, and shortly thereafter Genie's mother left her husband to live with her parents in Monterey Park and took Genie with her; Genie's brother, by then 18, had already run away from home to live with friends. A 2002 episode of the television series Body Shock said they got away while Genie's father was buying groceries. Three weeks later, on November 4, Genie's mother brought Genie along while seeking disability benefits in nearby Temple City, California. On account of her near-blindness, she inadvertently entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she saw Genie; she was shocked to learn Genie's true age was 13, having estimated from her appearance and demeanor that she was around 6 or 7 and possibly autistic. She notified her supervisor, and after questioning Genie's mother and confirming Genie's age they immediately contacted the police. Genie's parents were arrested and Genie became a ward of the court, and a court order was immediately issued for Genie to be taken to Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Upon Genie's admission David Rigler, a therapist and USC psychology professor who was the chief psychologist at Children's Hospital, and Howard Hansen, then the head of the psychiatry division and an early expert on child abuse, took direct control of Genie's care. The day after Genie's admission physician James Kent, another early advocate for child abuse awareness, examined her. He later stated this examination revealed by far the most severe case of child abuse he would ever encounter, and he came away from it extremely pessimistic about Genie's prognosis. The officer who arrested Genie's parents questioned them with his partner, and found that Genie's mother would not speak about her family—and particularly not her children—and Genie's father never seemed to acknowledge anything said to him. When officers interviewed people in the neighborhood, they found no one knew Genie's parents ever had a child besides their son, and their neighbors were stunned and horrified when police informed them of Genie's existence and of the abuse Genie's father had inflicted on his wife and children. In the house the family had been living in, police found several devices which had been used to restrain and hit Genie. They also discovered detailed notes Genie's father had written, chronicling both his mistreatment of his family and his efforts to conceal it; after reading through them, the lead detective on the investigation said, "Hitler could have taken lessons from [Genie's father.]" Rigler said the hospital could not procure Genie's developmental history, and largely had to rely on the police investigation to piece together Genie's childhood. Even after the investigation, there were a large number of questions about Genie's childhood left unresolved; writing in mid-1993, Rigler stated that, "There were and there remain deep concerns regarding the exact nature of her abuse."
News of Genie's rescue reached major media outlets on November 17, 1970, receiving a great deal of local and national media attention. That night, Walter Cronkite included a segment on Genie in the CBS Evening News. The Los Angeles Times ran two consecutive front-page stories on Genie, and continued to run prominent stories on her and her family for over a week. Newspaper reports showed several photographs of the other members of Genie's family, and local and regional television news networks shot extensive video of Genie's parents. However, only one picture of Genie was publicly released; this picture, shown in both the November 17 Los Angeles Times article and on the CBS Evening News report, significantly fueled public interest in Genie. Children's Hospital staff said reporters began regularly coming to the hospital hoping to see her, making it very difficult for them to maintain her anonymity as Hansen desired. Acting at least partially on advice from his attorney, Genie's father refused to speak to the media. Genie's brother also made no public statements, but cooperated with the police investigation and gave detectives important information on his father's abuse.
After the story reached the media, large crowds went to the family's house to try to see Genie's father, which he reportedly found extremely difficult to handle. On November 20, on the morning before a scheduled court appearance on charges of child abuse, Genie's father committed suicide by gunshot; his son was standing with a friend outside the house, with no knowledge of his father's intentions. When police arrived, they found two suicide notes from Genie's father. One, intended for his son, contained instructions for handling his body and a few of his possessions, and the other was directed at the police. One of the notes—police did not specify which—contained the declaration, "The world will never understand."
After the initial police investigation, law enforcement and hospital staff exclusively focused on Genie and her mother.[C] The Children's Hospital staff, especially Kent, wanted to keep Genie's mother involved in Genie's life because she was Genie's only association with her family and her past. Hansen was an acquaintance of attorney John Miner, and asked Miner to represent her in court; Miner, who knew about the case from the media and had already taken considerable interest in it, readily agreed to defend her. She told the court that beatings at the hands of her husband and her near-total blindness had left her unable to intervene on Genie's behalf. Charges against her were subsequently dropped, and over the course of the next several years she received counseling at Children's Hospital; Hansen was her therapist's direct supervisor. The following year, with the consent of Genie's mother and her psychologists, Miner was named Genie's legal guardian.
Characteristics and personality
Genie was extremely pale and severely undersized for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg), and upon admission had nearly two full sets of teeth in her mouth and a distended abdomen. A series of X-rays taken soon after her admission found she had moderate coxa valga in both hips and an undersized ribcage. Her gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten her arms or legs. Kent was surprised to find her fine motor skills were significantly better, determining they were at approximately the level of a two-year-old; the day after being admitted to the hospital, Kent noticed she did not seem to have any difficulty using only her fingers to flip through pages of a magazine. She could not focus her eyes on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, and her characteristic, "bunny walk", in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested an inability to integrate visual and tactile information; when Victor of Aveyron was first found, he had similar difficulties with sensory processing.
As Genie could not chew solid food, she would hold food in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She also exhibited very severe dysphagia, unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. The restraining harness her father used had caused a thick callus and heavy black bruising on her buttocks, which took several weeks to heal. She was also completely incontinent. Like Victor of Aveyron, she gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures; even years later, when she bathed and showered by herself, she invariably used very cold water. Doctors noticed her extreme fear of cats and dogs from the outset, but initially attributed it to an inability to think rationally; its actual origin was not discerned until years later.
After moving into Children's Hospital, Genie showed interest in many hospital staff members, often approaching complete strangers and walking with them; Kent said that, even from the very beginning, she made reasonably good eye contact. When eating, she sometimes tried to give her food to the person next to her before grabbing for their food. However, she showed no signs of attachment to anyone in particular, including members of her family; at first, she seemed much more eager to interact with hospital staff. When her mother and brother came to visit her at the hospital for the first time, Kent and Genie were playing with some puppets she had taken a liking to. Kent said Genie walked to her mother and gave her a brief, expressionless look before turning back to Kent and resuming her play, and she never acknowledged her brother's greeting. Kent said she did not seem to distinguish between people, and thought she was more interested in the room itself than the people in it with her. At first, Genie would not allow anyone to touch her, quickly shying away from any physical contact.[D]
Doctors attempting to determine Genie's mental age found it extremely difficult to test her, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13 month old. Kent noted that while Genie demonstrated some non-verbal ability, she could only communicate a few very basic needs. Doctors immediately noticed that she showed no understanding of any grammar whatsoever, and only responded to about 15–20 words; she knew "mother" and "father", a few color words, and a few other miscellaneous words for objects such as "jewelry box", "door", and "bunny". Her active vocabulary consisted of just two short phrases, "stop it" and "no more". Kent described the very few vocal sounds she made as, "a kind of throaty whimper." At first, hospital staff could not tell whether she had no language or if she was only selectively mute. Tests found that Genie always responded to the very few words she knew as if they were spoken in isolation, and she could not respond to very basic commands. Doctors found no evidence of any metabolic disorders or skull deformations, a neurologist could not find signs of neurological disorders, her chromosomes were normal, and an EEG had no indications of any mental disorder. After testing Genie and checking existing medical records, which also uncovered no clear mental disabilities, researchers determined she had not acquired a language.[E] Kent said that, despite her lack of language, he was immediately certain that she had memories of her past, but she had no way of communicating them to anyone.
Although she almost never vocalized, Genie continually sniffed, salivated, spat and clawed, and appeared very interested in exploring environmental stimuli. When upset she would wildly spit, blow her nose into her clothing, and scratch and strike herself; her face stayed completely expressionless, and she never cried or vocalized. Some accounts said she could not cry at all. If she wanted to make noise, she would push chairs or other similar objects. Doctors knew her father's abuse had played some role in her silence during these tantrums, but did not find out until much later the extent to which he had forced her to repress outward expressions. She also had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or simply taking something she wanted from someone else. Nonetheless, hospital staff hoped to nurture her closer to normality.
Early on, Jay Shurley, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma and a specialist in extreme social isolation, took an interest in Genie's case. In the year and a half after Genie was rescued Shurley came on three three-day visits, and got permission to conduct daily observations of Genie and to carry out a sleep study; the first of these visits was in December 1970, and the others were in approximately six month intervals. From his studies, he hoped to determine whether or not Genie was autistic. He also wanted to determine whether or not she was born mentally retarded, had sustained irreversible brain damage due to her severe malnutrition which left her retarded, or had merely been rendered functionally retarded by her isolation and abuse. Shurley's observations of Genie during the daytime led him to believe she was not autistic, with which later researchers concurred. Although he and doctors at the hospital noted that her behavior indicated a high level of emotional disturbance, she did not exhibit behavioral defense mechanisms characteristic of autism.
For his sleep studies, Shurley found Genie cooperative and had no significant difficulties gathering data. However, he and the hospital staff both observed that she would always wake up at around 11 PM, sit up, and silently remove the electrodes. When Shurley put them back on she did not resist, and she always quickly fell back asleep.[F] When analyzing the data from his first test, he noted that Genie's almost total lack of language could potentially have had some influence on his results. He found no signs of brain damage, ruling it out as a cause of her lack of speech. Some aspects of her sleep were typical, such as her production of alpha and theta waves in pre-sleep and Stage One sleep, and others, such as her Stage Three and Four sleep periods, were initially highly irregular but had almost entirely normalized by Shurley's last session. However, although he never found any sudden onset of irregularity in her sleep, he observed a few persistent abnormalities, including a significantly reduced amount (and much larger than average variance in duration) of REM sleep and an atypically high number of sleep spindles. Largely from the latter he concluded she had been retarded from birth, as significantly elevated numbers of sleep spindles are a phenomenon typically found in people born with severe retardation. However, scientists following the case remained divided on this issue. Much later, for example, Susan Curtiss emphatically argued that, though Genie clearly had serious emotional difficulties, she could not have been retarded. Curtiss pointed out that for every calendar year after her rescue, Genie had made a year's developmental progress, which would not be expected if her condition was congenital.
Shurley also noted that Genie's was the most severe case of isolation he had ever studied or heard about—which he maintained more than 20 years later—and offered several suggestions about how to work with her. When he first met Genie he was insistent that her transition to the outside world be very gradual. David Rigler said that, despite their later disagreements, Shurley's recommendations were the only useful advice he ever received on handling Genie and he attempted to follow them as much as possible. Shurley thought Genie would make an excellent case study on many fronts, and in the early part of his involvement he assisted with the research. Over subsequent years, from his home in Oklahoma City Shurley remained in contact with many of the people around Genie, and periodically traveled back to California to visit with Genie, her mother, and the other scientists.
After Genie's rescue, the doctors at Children's Hospital began teaching her to speak and socialize. The day after her admission, James Kent was assigned to be Genie's therapist; he thought a steady presence in Genie's life would help her learn to form relationships, so he accompanied her on walks and to all of her appointments. When Kent first met with her he tried to discern her emotional and intellectual state, and at first observed no reactions from her, but when he took several objects out of a bag he found that she seemed afraid of a small puppet. When she threw it on the floor Kent looked at Genie, pretending to be very concerned, and said, "We have to get him back", and was startled when she repeated the word "back" and nervously laughed. As they played she repeated "back" several times, and when Kent said, "The puppet will fall" she repeated "fall". Playing with this and similar puppets quickly became her favorite activity, and during the early part of her stay was, apart from her tantrums, one of the few times she expressed any emotions.
Within a few days of arriving at Children's Hospital Genie started learning to dress herself and began voluntarily using the toilet, although incontinence remained an ongoing problem for her even years later, tending to resurface when she felt under duress. She also gradually became more responsive to other people talking, although doctors were unsure whether she was responding more to verbal or non-verbal stimuli. After two weeks, Kent decided to take Genie to play in the yard outside the hospital's rehabilitation center, hoping to give her a sense of freedom. She quickly began growing and putting on weight, and although her walk remained very distinctive she steadily became more confident in her movements. Around this time, Kent and the other hospital staff assigned to Genie began to see her as a potential case study, and David Rigler obtained a small grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to do preliminary studies on her.
Genie quickly developed a sense of possession, hoarding objects to which she took a liking. Colorful plastic objects quickly became her favorite things to collect and play with; she did not seem to care whether they were toys or ordinary containers, although she especially sought out beach pails. Doctors believed this was because while in captivity, she only had small plastic food containers and two plastic raincoats. Later during her stay, when Kent started taking her on trips outside the hospital, Genie's favorite places were stores with plastic toys. When she wanted to go shopping while they were out, she would point to buildings and ask, "Store?" If someone in a toy store looked interesting to her or was holding something she liked, she would walk right up to and attach herself to who or what had caught her attention. By April, almost six months into her stay at Children's Hospital, Genie began to exhibit a sense of possession over items that she did not otherwise care about; Kent recalled one incident where Genie was clearly angry at another girl and determined it was because she was wearing a hospital dress Genie had worn, even though Genie had never, to that point, shown any preference or sentimentality towards clothing.
All of the doctors noticed how intensely she explored her surroundings, although she still seemed more intrigued by objects than other children. Jay Shurley noted that, whereas Genie had been apathetic and, "ghost-like" upon admission, she quickly began seeking new sensory stimulation. Approximately a month and a half after her admission, doctors administered a Gesell Developmental Evaluation and found her to be at the level of a 1–3 year old. Doctors saw she enjoyed intentionally dropping or destroying small objects, and instead of discouraging her most of the hospital staff, especially Kent, tried using this to get her to outwardly express her anger. She also showed deep fascination with classical piano music played in front of her; Susan Curtiss said she acted like she was either in a trance or hallucinating when she heard something she enjoyed. If the song being played was anything other than classical music, she would walk up and change the sheet music to a piece she knew she liked. In captivity, she could regularly hear a neighboring child practicing the piano; as this had been one of the very few sensations available to her, researchers thought it may have been the origin of her interest. Genie quickly developed remarkable nonverbal communication skills and soon learned to imitate people, make consistent eye contact, vocalize, and use gestures to express herself.
Within two months of her rescue, Genie's demeanor and responsiveness to others had considerably changed. The scientists were concerned that she almost never interacted with other children—one psychiatrist wrote in May 1971 that she acted as if other children were, "no different from the walls and furniture in the room"—but after a month she started becoming sociable with familiar adults, first with Kent and soon with other familiar hospital staff. She would sometimes work very hard to get people to stay with her, and expressed disappointment if she did not succeed in her efforts. Not long afterwards she began showing happiness when familiar people came to visit, and Kent noticed her greetings were far more energetic than her relatively mild unhappiness when people left. She got along with both men and women, but they noticed she was afraid of men who wore khaki pants and showed a particular affinity for men with beards; they attributed the latter to her father having been clean-shaven. Genie gradually began to express more of her emotions outwards, and her nonverbal communication skills quickly became exceptional; everyone who met her said she had an indescribable way of capturing and eliciting emotions, and she seemed able to communicate her desires to people without talking. When Curtiss and Kent went to toy stores with Genie, they frequently observed that complete strangers would buy something for her because they sensed she wanted it, and both of them were amazed that these gifts were always the types of objects Genie most enjoyed.
Genie's vocabulary steadily increased, and by four months into her stay at the hospital had expanded to over 100 words. After another month she began spontaneously producing one-word answers, although her speech was difficult to understand. Soon after she produced her first one-word utterances, she appeared to understand some give-and-take of conversation and could spontaneously provide one-word responses to people. Her acquisition to this point was far more rapid than what the hospital's doctors had anticipated, heightening their expectations of her potential for learning language. By April and May of 1971, her scores on the Leiter International Performance Scale tests had dramatically increased. Overall her mental age was at the level of a typical 4 year 9 month old, but on individual components she showed a very high level of scatter.[G]
After charges were dropped against Genie's mother, she began visiting the hospital twice a week. As Genie got better at forming relationships with the hospital staff she grew more comfortable with her mother, and doctors saw Genie begin to exude happiness when she knew her mother was coming. At around the same time she started engaging in physical play with adults, eventually beginning to enjoy giving and receiving hugs.  Genie continued to exhibit frustration and have tantrums, but the causes became more obvious; whereas early on doctors could not discern anything which set her off, her later outbursts were in response to situations which would have aggravated most young children would. Kent recalled her being very disappointed when she could not go on outings due to a doctor's appointment, and unlike past times where doctors quickly cheered her up by giving her one of her favorite objects she continued to sulk the whole morning. In April 1971 she began to direct some of her anger outwards, but she did not entirely stop harming herself. One morning a few months after admission to the hospital, when a minor earthquake struck Los Angeles, she ran frightened into the kitchen and rapidly verbalized to some cooks she had befriended; this was the first time she sought out comfort from another person and the first time she was so profusely verbal. However, Genie still had a hard time with large crowds, even after months at the hospital; at her birthday party, she became so anxious at all the guests present that she had to go outside to calm down.
Beginning in 1971, scientists conducted a series of neurolinguistic tests on Genie. In early March 1971, neuroscientists Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima came from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to administer their own series of brain exams, making Genie the first language-deprived child to undergo any detailed study of her brain. Doctors already suspected Genie was extremely right-hemisphere dominant, but the tests went even further and showed asymmetry at a level which had previously only been documented in patients with either split-brain or who had undergone a left hemispherectomy. Genie was right-handed and her brain was completely physically intact, but her left hemisphere appeared to have undergone no specialization whatsoever.
In approximately 95% of right-handed people the left ear, which is more strongly connected to the right hemisphere, better processes environmental and musical sounds, while the right ear is better at picking up language. This preference is usually very subtle, and differences between ears is usually very slight; however, despite confirmation from audiometry tests that Genie had regular hearing in both ears, on dichotic listening tests researchers found that she identified language sounds with 100% accuracy in her left ear while correctly answering at only a chance level with her right ear. This discrepancy in language accuracy between ears was far larger than normal. Her monaural tests were 100% accurate in both ears, and on non-language dichotic listening tests she showed a slight left-ear preference, which was typical of a right-handed person and helped rule out the possibility of her brain's hemispheres only being reversed in dominance. Based on the results of these tests, Bellugi and Klima believed that Genie had been developing as a normal right-handed person until the time her father began isolating her, and the imbalance between Genie's left and right hemispheres was because Genie's sensory input as a child was almost exclusively visual and tactile. These functions are predominantly controlled in the right hemisphere, which led the scientists to believe that because Genie had no linguistic input to stimulate lateralization in the left hemisphere, her language functions never lateralized to her left hemisphere.
Interest as a case study
At the time Genie was discovered, hypotheses proposed by Noam Chomsky and Eric Lenneberg about the innateness and acquisition of language were widely discussed in both lay and academic circles, but there had been no way to test their hypotheses. In the 1950s Chomsky had argued that language was innate to humans, and in 1964 Lenneberg proposed that humans have a critical period for language acquisition, defining the end of this period as the onset of puberty. After this time, if a person had not acquired language, they would be incapable of doing so. Though ancient and medieval texts made several references to language deprivation experiments, modern researchers labeled such ideas "The Forbidden Experiment", impossible to carry out for ethical reasons.[H] Coincidentally, the François Truffaut film The Wild Child also premiered in the United States only a week after Genie's rescue. The movie, chronicling the life of Victor of Aveyron and the efforts of deaf-mute instructor and then-aspiring medical student Jean Marc Gaspard Itard to teach him language and integrate him into society, heightened public interest in cases of children subjected to extreme abuse or isolation. Prompted by this coincidence of timing, a team of Children's Hospital scientists led by David Rigler sought and obtained a grant from the NIMH to study Genie in May 1971. At Butler's suggestion, they screened The Wild Child during their first meeting as an inspiration for ideas; the scientists later said this had a profound impact because they immediately saw the parallels with Genie. The primary focus of their research was to test Lenneberg's theory that humans have a critical period for language acquisition, and UCLA linguistics professor Victoria Fromkin would head the linguistic evaluation.[I] The research team also planned to continue periodic evaluations of Genie's psychological development in various aspects of her life.[J] From the time Genie had been admitted to Children's Hospital researchers had tried to keep her identity concealed, and it was around the time of the grant proposal that they adopted the pseudonym Genie for her. The name referenced parallels researchers saw between Genie's sudden emergence into society from captivity past childhood and a genie's sudden emergence from a bottle without having a human childhood.
At around the same time, Susan Curtiss began her work on Genie's case as a graduate student in linguistics under Victoria Fromkin; over the coming years, Curtiss would be one of the most influential figures in Genie's life. Curtiss already knew of Genie from news reports, and used the hospital's video and transcripts to piece together her progress before they met. Together with Fromkin, she tested Genie and tracked her language acquisition, writing numerous papers covering various aspects of Genie's progress. When Curtiss first met Genie she realized her language was not yet at a usefully testable level, so she devoted the summer to simply getting to know Genie and gaining her friendship. For the remaining month that Genie was at Children's Hospital Curtiss began to go along with Genie and Kent on trips into town, and she and Genie very quickly bonded with each other. During the summer of 1971, while Curtiss was still befriending Genie, she and Fromkin realized existing linguistic tests would not yield meaningful results, so they designed a set of 26 new tests from which they extrapolated most of their data. Curtiss also wrote down every spontaneous utterance she heard Genie make, ultimately recording a few thousand by the time she completed her dissertation in 1976.
At the same time Susan Curtiss first met Genie, approximately six months after admission, Genie was reevaluated on the Leiter scale and measured on a Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale; these both put her mental age between a 5 and 8 year old. At the same time, child psychologist David Elkind evaluated Genie and reported she understood object permanence. Elkind also noticed that after Genie heard a dog she later attempted to mimic its barking, the first time she tried to reenact something after it happened; he and the hospital psychologists saw both events as major cognitive gains. Later that month, when Genie was with Jean Butler, Butler asked a boy holding two balloons how many balloons he had; when the boy said "three", Butler said Genie appeared startled and quickly gave him another balloon. This was seen as a significant step, as it demonstrated that she was listening to other people, she understood significantly more language than she produced, and that she could count to at least some degree.
In mid-June 1971, when Susan Curtiss started going on trips with Kent and Genie, she noticed Genie often approached the front doors of random houses; Curtiss said Genie seemed to hope someone would see her and invite her in. David Elkind took her on a walk through Griffith Park and said she was fascinated by everything around her, and like Curtiss and Kent noted how intently she explored her surroundings. On these trips outside the hospital, Curtiss would deliberately act silly to help Genie release some of her pent-up tension. Her doctors, at that time, predicted a completely successful rehabilitation.
First foster home
Genie's teacher at Children's Hospital, Jean Butler, became very close to her; Jay Shurley especially praised Butler's work with Genie. In June 1971, Butler obtained permission to take Genie on day trips to her home in Country Club Park, Los Angeles. After one of these trips near the end of that month, Butler told the hospital that she (Butler) might have contracted rubella, to which Genie would have been exposed. The scientists and hospital staff were very skeptical of Butler's story, strongly suspecting she had concocted it as part of a bid for foster custody; nonetheless Genie was temporarily quarantined in Butler's home as an alternative to placing her in isolation at the hospital. Butler, who was unmarried and living alone at the time and childless, subsequently petitioned for foster custody of Genie, and despite the hospital's objections the stay was extended while authorities considered the matter.
During Genie's stay in her home, Butler continued observing, writing about, and filming Genie. One behavior she documented was Genie's hoarding, first observed at Children's Hospital; in particular, Genie collected and kept dozens of containers of liquid in her room. The scientists did not know what caused this, although it is a common trait of children from abusive homes. On several occasions Butler went to the beach with Genie, who seemed fascinated with the water and waded in up to her ankles. Butler worked on Genie's ongoing incontinence problems, which gradually eased and almost entirely went away by the end of her stay. Although Butler could not discern the reason for Genie's intense fear of cats and dogs, after witnessing it firsthand Butler tried to help Genie overcome it by watching episodes of the television series Lassie with her and giving her a battery-powered toy dog. Butler wrote that Genie could eventually tolerate fenced dogs, though there was no progress with cats. Butler, the scientists, and the NIMH evaluating committee all noted a marked improvement in Genie's demeanor during her stay with Butler, stating that she seemed more relaxed. They also noticed that soon after moving in, Genie started showing the first signs of reaching puberty. The occurrence of puberty both marked a dramatic improvement in her overall health and definitively put her past Lenneberg's proposed critical period for language acquisition. David Rigler, however, noted that the onset of menstruation complicated efforts to deal with her incontinence.
Butler's journal and films are the only data available on Genie's speech during this time, as Curtiss' dissertation contains nothing from this period apart from mentioning that Genie had formed some non-imitative two-word utterances in July.[K] Butler claimed that soon after Genie had moved in with her, Genie had become far more verbal. Butler specifically wrote that she had taught Genie to say "yes" to other people, to use negative forms of words, to help her stop hurting herself, and to express her anger through words or by hitting objects. Around a month into Genie's stay, Butler said Genie had argued with her over not wanting to come inside, which would have been the first time Genie expressed disagreement in language. In early August, Butler wrote to Jay Shurley that Genie had begun regularly using two-word sentences, and sometimes used two adjacent adjectives to describe nouns, such as, "one black kitty". Butler said the man she was dating—who was himself a former professor at the University of Southern California and a well-known, respected psychologist—commented on Genie's progress, calling her "my little yakker". She also reported that a few days prior, when she asked Genie why she had thrown her new pet goldfish outside, Genie explained, "bad orange fish—no eat—bad fish"—which would have been by far her longest utterance to that point.
While Genie was living with her, Butler allowed Genie's mother, who had regained much of her eyesight through corrective cataract surgery her therapists arranged for her, to come on weekly visits. After her surgery Genie's mother reportedly changed her opinions of John Miner, her therapists, and several of the scientists. When she saw Genie for the first time she was shocked and concerned at how thin Genie was. However, Butler began to strenuously resist visits by the scientists, whom she felt overtaxed Genie and to whom she began disparagingly referring in her journal as the "Genie Team", a name which stuck. Butler particularly seemed to dislike James Kent and Susan Curtiss, writing that Kent was too permissive towards Genie's behavior and Curtiss was not experienced enough in working with children and overzealous in her efforts to elicit speech from Genie; during the latter part of Genie's stay at Butler's house, Butler prevented both of them from visiting. She frequently argued with the scientists about Genie's handling, especially with Rigler, although he maintained that these disputes were never as heated or personalized as Butler portrayed them.
The scientists strongly contested Butler's claims of pushing Genie too hard, contending that she enjoyed the tests and was allowed to take breaks at will. They viewed Butler as personally troubled, noting her longstanding and widely known reputation for combativeness among coworkers and superiors. Several of the scientists, especially Curtiss and Howard Hansen, recalled Butler openly stating that she hoped Genie would make her famous; Curtiss remembered Butler repeatedly proclaiming her intent to be, "the next Anne Sullivan". She also demanded several times to be credited in the scientists' research publications; although Rigler initially acquiesced on this, the scientists eventually decided against it. During Genie's stay Butler had the man she was dating move in with her, as she believed authorities would view her pending foster application more favorably if she offered a two-parent home. Butler wrote he and Genie got along very well, which Shurley later corroborated, and he sometimes attempted to mediate disputes between Butler and the scientists. According to Shurley, he was also very intent on gaining foster custody of Genie. Despite Butler receiving positive evaluations from both the agency's case handler and the NIMH's evaluating committee, the case handler's superiors were very divided over the adequacy of Butler's home.
In mid-August, California authorities informed Butler they had rejected her application for foster custody. The extent, if any, to which Children's Hospital influenced the decision is unclear. Rigler maintained several times that despite the scientists' objections to Butler's application, neither the hospital nor any of its staff had intervened, and he said the decision surprised him. In early August he had written a letter to Butler—copies of which he sent to Kent, Howard Hansen, and the agency's case handler—in which he said that despite his frustration due to her lack of cooperation with the scientists, he thought her home was suitable and her application would likely be accepted. The Nova documentary on Genie, however, states the rejection of Butler came partially on the hospital's recommendation; there is evidence many hospital authorities felt Butler's ability to care for Genie was inadequate, and hospital policy forbade its staff members from becoming foster parents of its patients. Butler herself believed the hospital had opposed her application so Genie could be moved somewhere more conducive to research, and wrote that Genie, upon being told of the decision, was extremely upset and had said, "No, no, no." She did not see Genie again for several years, though she stayed in contact with Genie's mother. Over the next 15 years, she made repeated attacks on the scientists working with Genie in numerous forums.
Second foster home
After Genie was removed from Jean Butler's house, she was returned to Children's Hospital; on the same day, she was transferred to David Rigler's home in Los Feliz. From the outset the scientists had agreed they wanted Genie to have a home to live in, and after denying Butler custody the state had been unable to find anyone else. In early August, Hansen had suggested to Rigler that he take custody of Genie if authorities rejected Butler, and although he initially balked at the idea decided to talk it over with his wife, Marilyn; Marilyn had graduate training as a social worker and had just completed a graduate degree in human development, and had previously worked in both nursery schools and Head Start Programs. They had three adolescent children of their own, and ultimately decided that, if no one else would, they would be willing to temporarily care for Genie until a new foster home became available. Jay Shurley said the Riglers also thought their experience with raising three children would give them an advantage over Butler. All of the scientists knew how unusual it was to make David Rigler a foster parent while still one of Genie's therapists and the head of the scientific team, but there was unanimous consensus among the doctors and scientists that Genie needed to live in a more stable environment than a hospital setting and someplace where she could form relationships with specific people; researchers thought the Riglers' home offered the type of environment they wanted for her.
Despite the hospital's policy, they, John Miner, and the state consented and the Riglers were made temporary foster parents; although they initially intended the arrangement to last for three months at most, Genie ultimately stayed there for four years. While living with them Marilyn became Genie's new teacher and Susan Curtiss was allowed to visit almost every day, both to conduct her tests and to go on outings with Genie. Shortly after Genie moved in, one of the Riglers' children went away to college, enabling Genie to have her own room and bathroom in the house. Much of Genie's development during this time was captured on film, and David Rigler said she eventually learned how to operate the cameras herself.
Upon moving in with the Riglers Genie's incontinence issues resurfaced, and Marilyn noticed her speech was much more halting and hesitant than Butler had described. Unless she saw a dog or something else which frightened her, both Genie's speech and behavior exhibited a great deal of latency; most of the time, her responses were several minutes delayed. The Riglers also found Genie frequently took things which belonged to their children and could be very destructive, requiring full-time supervision. She was captivated by books and magazines, especially National Geographic issues—of which the Riglers had a very large collection—and David Rigler especially found it disconcerting that she did not hesitate to tear out a page or a picture she liked.
Besides dealing with these problems, Marilyn also found the need to teach Genie unconventional lessons. Despite what Butler had said about stopping Genie's self-harming, Marilyn observed Genie would still act out her anger on herself; to counter this, Marilyn taught Genie to direct her frustrations outward by jumping, slamming doors, hitting objects, stomping her feet, and generally "having a fit." Marilyn soon noticed Genie wanted to be complimented on her looks, and to further discourage her from attacking herself Marilyn began painting Genie's fingernails and telling her she did not look good when she scratched and cut her face. Later, when Marilyn could see Genie getting upset, Marilyn would say to her, "You are upset. You are having a rough time." Genie gradually began verbally communicating her frustration by responding, "rough time" when Marilyn said this, eventually only needing to hear, "You are upset" before saying, "rough time".[L] Later during her stay, Genie could indicate her level of anger; depending on whether she was very angry or merely frustrated, she would either vigorously shake one finger or loosely wave her hand. Marilyn also worked with Genie on chewing by giving her progressively tougher foods and physically moving Genie's jaw—a process which took around four months—and after noticing Genie's complete indifference to temperature, Marilyn worked to help Genie become more attuned to her body's sensations. Both David and Marilyn worked to reduce Genie's continued fear of dogs, using their own puppy to gradually acclimate her over several days when she first moved in.
As Genie settled into living with the Riglers, her incontinence mostly disappeared and her demeanor improved. She eventually grew comfortable with the Riglers' cat and dog, and could eventually walk the dog and feed it by herself, but remained extremely afraid of unfamiliar cats and dogs. Gradually, she began to outwardly exhibit more of her emotions, both positive and negative; Curtiss said one major breakthrough she observed was when, upon going to the Riglers' house to meet with Genie one morning, she found Genie in tears because she was feeling sick and had just found out she would need to see a doctor. Over the course of several more months, her behavior improved to the point that she started going to first a nursery school and then a public school for mentally retarded children. David Rigler wrote that eventually she rode the school bus with other people her age, and attended social functions at her school. In February 1973 Genie gave Curtiss some rings she had gotten, which was the first time Genie ever gave or shared something with Curtiss. Around the same time, David Rigler and Curtiss both remembered Genie developing a crush on her bus driver, which the scientists saw as a sign that she was maturing. Genie also learned how to do some simple chores around the house, such as ironing and operating a sewing machine, and by the end of her stay could make simple meals for herself.
Continued brain exams
The findings of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima had raised a large number of questions about how Genie's brain would process and acquire language. Some right-hemisphere language acquisition had previously been observed in split-brain and hemispherectomy patients, and the scientists monitored her acquisition compared to them. They also wanted to observe her brain's development as she was exposed to more verbal and non-verbal stimuli, as they wanted to see whether Genie would remain so extremely right-hemisphere dominant and, if she did, determine what parts of her brain she was using during language acquisition. In the fall of 1971 they began a series of brain exams conducted at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.
These exams, done under the direction of Curtiss, Victoria Fromkin, and Stephen Krashen—who was then also one of Fromkin's graduate students—largely confirmed Bellugi and Klima's original findings. They continued both the verbal and nonverbal dichotic listening tests, which were administered throughout 1972 and 1973, and found Genie remained extremely left-ear dominant for language sounds. As the scientists could not find evidence of physiological problems with her left hemisphere which could have caused it to atrophy to such an extreme degree, their explanation for the underlying cause of Genie's extreme left-ear language preference was that abnormal neurological activity in her left hemisphere—which they speculated was due to her atrophied language center—was blocking all language reception in her right ear. The fact that Genie's left hemisphere had not lateralized while her right hemisphere had also supported a hypothesis, put forth in 1972, that the right hemisphere lateralized first because its functions are more directly involved with picking up on environmental stimuli.
In addition to continuing the dichotic listening tests, Curtiss, Fromkin, and Krashen also gave Genie tachistoscopic and evoked response tests. The first time Genie took a tachistoscopic test, the scientists used an exam involving chimeric figures previously tried on split-brain patients; as Genie peregrinated to an enormous degree when answering, their results from this were inconclusive. With the other tachistocsopic tests there were some difficulties with their administration, as they require the subject to focus on one point for an extended period of time and the people testing Genie could not always be sure she was looking in the right place. Nonetheless, they did not encounter any major problems gathering data and were able to gain considerable insight into Genie's neurological functions. Their tests showed she performed most tasks primarily using her right hemisphere, such as perspective, recalling unrelated objects, gestalt perception, and number perception, at a much higher level than those typically performed by the left hemisphere, such as sequential order tests.[M]
Her improvement on right hemisphere functions was also extraordinarily rapid, and far outstripped her ability to learn left hemisphere tasks; for instance, in January 1972, about a year and three months after being rescued, her scores on Raven's Progressive Matrices were in the 50th percentile for an 8.5–9 year old. Some abilities, such as her spatial awareness, were at or higher than the level of typical adults, indicating that her brain had lateralized and that her right hemisphere underwent specialization; on spatial awareness tests, her scores were reportedly the highest ever recorded to that point. There were a few primarily right hemisphere tasks she did not perform well on; she had difficulty with certain facial recognition tests and certain tests on remembering designs. In October 1975 Genie scored at a "borderline" level on the latter, although she did not make the mistakes typical of brain-damaged patients. In addition, on a Benton Visual Retention Test and an associated facial recognition test Genie's scores were well below average. Researchers wrote that they had anticipated this result, and Curtiss' explanation was that, because these tasks normally require use of both hemispheres, they would be very difficult for Genie since she almost exclusively used her right hemisphere.[N]
Taken with Genie's results on the dichotic listening tests, Genie's tachitoscopic and evoked response tests lent further support to the researchers' belief that Genie was using her right hemisphere for language, as they found a high level of involvement from her right anterior cerebral cortex in these tests. The lack of improvement on both left hemisphere tasks and right-ear language identification bolstered their conclusions. By 1975, through further evoked response tests researchers confirmed that she processed all neurological functions in her right hemisphere.
Relationship with her mother
While Genie was living with the Riglers, her mother continued visiting her, usually meeting once a week at a park or restaurant. Gradually, the bond between her and Genie grew stronger, and David Rigler said he and his wife encouraged Genie to go on increasingly frequent overnight visits to her mother's house. Genie's mother also took Genie with her on visits to her parents' house, and Genie frequently mentioned these trips. However, though the Riglers wanted to keep Genie's mother involved and never expressed any antipathy towards her, while Genie was living with them her mother only visited their house three times. Besides the problems Genie's mother faced with transportation, years later Marilyn also said she was uncomfortable with acting as a mother to Genie in her house in front of Genie's real mother, and thought a more neutral location would help diminish the awkwardness for both of them. Many other scientists on the research team did not welcome the presence of Genie's mother, citing a considerable dislike for her passivity during Genie's early life. Genie's mother got along considerably better with Jay Shurley, who came from an isolated Texas ranch family similar to hers during her childhood before she moved to California; he thought the other scientists did not treat her as an equal, though he acknowledged the amount of help many of the hospital staff—especially Kent and Howard Hansen—had given her. He also said Genie's mother felt very self-conscious due to the wide class difference between herself and the researchers.
The scientists, in turn, speculated Genie's mother gave them a mostly cool reception because they were a reminder of her inaction during Genie's childhood. They further thought she was in denial over both Genie's condition and the hand she had in causing it. David Rigler distinctly remembered one day when Genie's mother saw Genie walking shortly after her eye surgery; he said she abruptly asked him, "What have you done to her that she walks this way?" Rigler said he regarded both as positive steps for Genie's mother, as it meant the therapy she was receiving was helping her come to terms with what had happened to her and her children, but denied that he or his wife ever viewed her as inferior. Curtiss said that Genie's mother often gave conflicting statements to her therapists about her family life before and during Genie's captivity, which made it difficult for the scientists to be certain about many details of her husband's abuse of both her and her children. Jean Butler—who had married shortly after Genie was removed from her house and was now using her married name, Ruch—gradually began to exert more influence over Genie's mother, trying to get her to see the scientists and their work in the most negative light possible. During the latter part of Genie's stay there, her mother increasingly began to feel the scientists were marginalizing her.
When Genie first moved in with the Riglers, she remained mostly quiet. She did not usually listen to anyone unless she was being directly addressed or Curtiss was playing classical music on the piano. After she settled down in her new surroundings her speech, which although much like her general behavior still frequently exhibited considerable latency, began steadily improving. In mid-October 1971, Curtiss was reading Genie a story when she saw Genie was clearly listening to her; after that point, she began paying attention to people even when they were not speaking directly to or about her. Sometimes, she would even spontaneously contribute to an ongoing conversation.
Thorough testing of Genie's linguistic abilities began in October 1971, when Curtiss and Fromkin decided her linguistic abilities would yield results. These tests continued throughout her stay with the Riglers. Largely based on the data from these tests, from 1973 to 1975 Curtiss and Fromkin published four of the earliest papers on Genie; combined, these covered her progress from 1971 to early 1975. Curtiss conducted most of the tests herself, once a week almost every week, and she, Fromkin, and the research team analyzed the data from these sessions. Curtiss also recorded many of her sessions with Genie o film, and continued to observe Genie's progress outside the test settings. Between these, the tests conducted on her brain functions, and other evaluations of her social and psychological progress, the scientists speculated she may have been more tested than any other child.
In many cases, Genie's language development was used to help gauge her overall psychological development. For instance, she began to form imperative sentences using the vocative, as in, "Go way Joel, finish story!", which suggested not only progress in her language comprehension but an increasing level of self-confidence and self-concept. However, this was tempered by the fact that despite her ability to use and comprehend imperatives, she very rarely would. Although she responded if called she would almost never call someone to her and, despite repeated encouragement, she could not bring herself to tell a boy to stop annoying her at school. Researchers also noted she began using them much later in the language acquisition process than most, as imperatives are usually among the earliest types of sentences young children form. In some instances, learning a new aspect of language helped to further her. At the time Genie learned to use the ritual phrase "May I have [example]" she was learning how to use money, and she would frequently be paid small amounts in pennies for doing work or chores around the house. The ability to ask for payment using this phrase helped fuel her desire to make money, and in turn led to her taking a more active role in performing activities which would lead to a reward; at least once, when Marilyn began setting the table—an activity for which Genie was often paid—Genie stood up from Curtiss playing the piano and actively interrupted Marilyn so she could be rewarded.
Recalling past events
Sometime during early to mid-1972, the Riglers overheard Genie talking to herself. When they listened to her they heard her say, "Father hit big stick. Father is angry." to herself, demonstrating she could even talk about her life before learning language; this gave researchers new insights into her early life and disproved the theory of 18th century philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac that humans require language to form memories. During the rest of her stay with the Riglers, they said she would constantly repeat "Father hit" to herself. Eventually, Genie could provide longer and more detailed memories of her past. The Riglers tried to get her to talk about her childhood as much as possible, and Marilyn would sometimes coach Genie by role-playing as Genie's real mother. Before the Riglers worked with Genie to understand the concept of death she often asked where her father was, afraid that he would come to get her. She gradually began to speak about her father, and could talk about his treatment of her.
"Father hit arm. Big wood. Genie cry...Not spit. Father. Hit face – spit. Father hit big stick. Father is angry. Father hit Genie big stick. Father take piece wood hit. Cry. Father make me cry. Father is dead."
Even while speaking, Genie continued to use supplementary nonverbal gestures to improve her intelligibility. With some words, she would pantomime them as she spoke; for instance, the scientists noted she would crouch into a seated position when she said the words "sit" or "sick". Although this is normal to some degree among children learning a first language, she seemed to use them as an integral part of her vocabulary. When Curtiss saw how well Genie could gesture and act out her sentences, to encourage Genie to talk she devised a game to utilize these abilities. She and Genie would make simple sentences together, such as "Genie is silly", and then read them and act them out together; Genie took to this game, and sometimes tried to involve others when possible. As Genie had considerable difficulty with switching between tenses in her speech, which describing past occurrences requires, Curtiss said she would also act out events. When she was not understood right away, she would persist until her message was communicated. By the time Curtiss completed her dissertation Genie could read a few names and words, and could write individual letters in print.
When Genie was first removed from confinement she would only draw pictures if asked to, but during her stay with the Riglers she began to use drawings if she could not express herself in words. Her sophisticated sense of perspective rapidly became evident in many of her drawings; by November 1971, she could depict silhouettes and figures in profile, both of which require a relatively high degree of cognitive ability.[O] In addition to her own drawings, Genie would frequently use pictures from magazines to relate to daily experiences. She especially collected pictures of things that frightened her; Curtiss recalled one incident when a helmeted diver scared Genie, after which she would not relax until she showed Curtiss a picture she had found of a similar looking diver in a National Geographic issue. Several months into Genie's stay with the Riglers, she found a picture of a wolf in a magazine which sent her into a terror. When the Riglers saw her reaction, they asked Genie's mother if she knew what might have caused it; this was when she told them about how her husband had acted like a dog to intimidate Genie, which was the first time the underlying reason for her fear became apparent to the scientists.
Throughout her stay, the Riglers and Curtiss saw how frequently and effectively Genie used her nonverbal skills. She still seemed to be able to communicate with complete strangers without speaking; David Rigler vividly remembered an occasion when he and Genie passed a father and a young boy carrying a toy firetruck without speaking to each other, and said the boy suddenly turned around and gave the firetruck to Genie. Although the scientists tried to get her to talk as much as possible, they knew that historians and scientists studying Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's work with Victor of Aveyron thought one of the major flaws with his work was his insistence that Victor learn one method of communication—in his case writing—to the exclusion of others. They wanted to take full advantage of her ability to use gestures, so in 1974 the Riglers arranged for her to learn sign language; Curtiss stated that the instruction given to her was, "a system of signing somewhere between American Sign Language and signed English in its grammatical system." Even when learning sign language, Genie continued to use and invent her own gestures. Although the scientists did not test Genie's progress with sign language, Curtiss recorded one of Genie's advances with it in the spring of 1975.
Loss of funding and research interest
Despite Genie's progress, after three years the National Institute of Mental Health, which had been funding the research, grew concerned about the lack of scientific data being generated and the disorganized state of project records. A huge amount of data was being collected, but apart from Curtiss and Fromkin's linguistics data much of it was of very limited use. The enormous volume of non-linguistics data proved to be a hindrance to research, as there was far more information than could have realistically been used, and it eventually became impossible for researchers to determine the importance of much of this information. The scientific team was also storing its information in suboptimal condition, filed in random drawers and boxes with no categorization system. In 1973, Rigler asked for and received a one year extension on the grant, but the NIMH said it wanted more hard data and coherent organization of the researchers' work. Rigler said he and the other scientists tried to comply, but found the case was not conducive to producing quantitative statistics. He argued the NIMH did not understand the nature of Genie's case, saying much of it necessarily relied on unquantifiable observations, and pointed out that in the most congruous case, that of Victor of Aveyron, the scientists reported similar difficulties.
When the year-long extension neared its end and the scientists were preparing to request another extension Jean Butler Ruch, who had continually attacked the scientists since her application to become Genie's foster parent was rejected, began vociferously arguing against it. She obtained David Rigler's proposal for an additional three-year extension—which, due to a processing mistake, she managed to do before Rigler presented it to the NIMH—and began lobbying for its rejection, disputing the progress Genie had made with Curtiss and the Riglers.[P] When the NIMH's grants committee met to consider Rigler's proposal they concluded that, although the research was considerably and demonstrably beneficial to Genie and would not cause her active harm, there had been minimal overall progress and, "the research goals projected probably will not be realized". In a unanimous decision from the committee, funding for the study was cut off. Despite the NIMH grant ending, Curtiss continued to spend time with Genie, and in 1977 she and Fromkin obtained year-long grants from the National Science Foundation to continue their work.
Now 18, Genie still spoke only in phrases such as "Ball belong hospital." Her progress remained considerably slower than initially expected, and she never displayed the rapid grammar and syntax acquisition seen in most children after the two-word-sentence stage. Her comprehension, however, was well ahead of her speech—a similar dichotomy, albeit usually not quite as wide as hers, is typically found in young children—and she would occasionally demonstrate the ability to produce longer sentences. Evaluation was further complicated by some of Genie's difficulty with physically producing speech. Finally, scientists who later studied Genie's case thought the negative associations with vocalizing from her childhood would have had a profound effect on her speech, making it very difficult to properly assess.
In 1975, the Riglers—who had been compensated by the grant money while caring for Genie and indicated in the extension request that they needed continued compensation to sustain their guardianship—decided to end their foster parenting. David Rigler said that, from the time Genie was first admitted to Children's Hospital, their ultimate goal was to return Genie to her mother's custody, and when Genie turned 18 her mother wished to care for her. The Riglers and John Miner agreed to let Genie move back in with her mother at her childhood home. Before Genie left, the Riglers offered to assist her mother in any way they could. They signed Genie up for a summer school program, but when it ended she expressed a desire to stay at home with her mother instead of going to a summer day camp, to which they and her mother acquiesced. Despite the Riglers offers for continued assistance, after a few months Genie's mother found that taking care of Genie was both physically and financially too difficult for her to manage. Without notifying Miner or the scientists, she contacted the California Department of Health to find care for Genie. Genie was then transferred to the first of a succession of six foster homes, where she ended up staying for a year and a half.
In her new foster home, Genie was living with two other mentally retarded girls approximately her age. When she first moved in, social workers thought it would be an overall suitable home for her. However, they and Curtiss soon observed that the house was an extremely rigid environment, in particular noting that Genie was never allowed to play with the plastic containers she had brought with her. During her stay there, Genie again began experiencing issues with both incontinence and constipation and quickly returned to her coping mechanism of silence. Not long after she moved in, she was deeply traumatized by some of her treatment. The incident with the most severe impact occurred when she was beaten for vomiting and told that if she did it again she would never be allowed to see her mother, making her extremely afraid of opening her mouth for fear of vomiting and facing more punishment. Even when she was hungry she could barely eat, only opening her mouth just long enough to put food in. This fear also made her afraid to speak, rendering her almost completely silent; however, she still wanted to communicate with people she knew, so she began almost exclusively using the sign language she had learned while with the Riglers. Her mother, whom she desperately missed, was almost never permitted to visit her, causing Genie to become extremely withdrawn. At one point while she was living there, she refused to talk for five months.
Except for Curtiss, all of the scientists, including the Riglers and James Kent, were completely cut off from Genie during her stay in this foster home. Curtiss continued to meet with Genie once a week to continue her research and saw her rapid behavioral regression. She witnessed and was horrified by Genie's treatment in her new foster home, and on several occasions Genie told Curtiss she wanted to see her mother and to return to the Riglers. Curtiss quickly started petitioning to have Genie removed, but she said it took a long time to get authorities to take her seriously because she was still only a graduate student. Upon getting the department of social services involved both they and Curtiss had a very difficult time contacting John Miner, who was still Genie's legal guardian, only succeeding after repeated attempts over several months. Once they got his attention they convinced him to attend a party with Genie, and when he saw how badly she had regressed he worked with David Rigler to get her taken out of the home. Upon leaving in January 1977, owing to her previous treatment she required a two-week stay at Children's Hospital. She saw her mother and the Riglers during this time, and her condition moderately improved. In some of these subsequent homes she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress. She was often forbidden from seeing her mother for long periods of time in these homes, and except for Curtiss was completely cut off from most of the scientists. Many of Genie's drawings and utterances from 1977 expressed desire to see her mother.
In 1976, Curtiss finished her dissertation, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child", and it was published the following year by Academic Press; it received reviews from several prominent scientists. Its speech analysis covered Genie's utterances from admission to Children's Hospital until the early summer of 1975, and contained some excerpts of Curtiss' non-language observations from the same time frame. When Genie's mother saw a copy after its publication, despite having thought of Curtiss and Genie as friends she was reportedly very offended at the title and some of the contents. Privately she disputed some specific details, primarily regarding her husband's treatment of herself and Genie and the family's situation during Genie's captivity; however, her official complaint did not. Instead, she argued that Curtiss could only have obtained these details from her therapists or their supervisors, which would have been a breach of patient confidentiality. Genie's mother decided to sue Children's Hospital, her therapists, their supervisors, and several of the researchers both over the book and over allegations of excessive and outrageous testing, claiming the researchers gave testing priority over Genie's welfare, invaded Genie's privacy by constantly filming her, and pushed Genie far beyond the limits of her endurance, sometimes testing her between 60 and 70 hours per week.
The regional media immediately picked up the lawsuit, and the Los Angeles Times ran several prominent articles on it. Members of the Genie team, many of whom had not heard about Genie in years, were shocked when they found out they were being sued. David Rigler initially thought the focus of the suit would be Shurley's sleep-studies, as these were the most invasive tests conducted, but quickly found out Shurley had offered to testify against several of the other scientists. All of the researchers named in the lawsuit maintained their earlier contentions that although the tests challenged Genie, she mostly found them enjoyable and was always triumphant upon finishing. They especially emphasized that the tests were always in private and one on one, and that both she and the people testing her viewed these times as bonding experiences. Both Curtiss and David Rigler said that when a session ended, Genie was always rewarded in an emotional or material way. All of the scientists were adamant that they never coerced Genie, pointing out that this would have invalidated their results, and said Genie's mother and her lawyers grossly exaggerated the amount of time they tested Genie. Curtiss emphatically stated she never conducted testing sessions for more than 45 minutes, that Genie could take a break whenever she wanted, and that sometimes Genie herself would initiate the tests. After finishing, Curtiss said they would spend the rest of their time together, "just being friends." Rigler argued that if researchers had not done as much testing as they did, they would not have been satisfying the purpose of the grant.
The scientists responded, in addition to the allegations of overworking Genie, to concerns Genie's mother expressed about Genie's privacy and her own. Rigler maintained several times that Genie never showed signs of not wanting to be filmed, and said if she had they would have immediately stopped. Both Curtiss and Fromkin categorically denied any breach of confidentiality, asserting that the details on Genie's family were already publicly available. Curtiss pointed out that she and all of the other scientists had tried to maintain the privacy of Genie and her family, and in all their publications went to considerable lengths to keep their identities concealed. When the pending legal proceedings reached the news, Curtiss said she and all of the other scientists were extremely upset that several stories used Genie's real name and that of her mother.[Q]
At the outset, the lawyers for Genie's mother agreed there were serious problems with the scientists' testing, indicating they thought it would be possible to win judgment against them. The lawyers said that although their work with Genie almost certainly started out of goodwill, they thought publicity surrounding the case caused the scientists to lose sight of their stated goal of rehabilitating her. They pointed to the NIMH's rationale in rejecting the grant extension, arguing this should have been a sign of flaws in the scientists' research methods, and further argued that many of the tests were given so often that they only indicated Genie's familiarity with them. However, as the lawsuit went forward, the lawyers for Genie's mother increasingly felt their case was extremely tenuous at best. When they found out that Curtiss had already set up a trust fund in Genie's name and that her intention had always been to give all the royalties from her dissertation to Genie, they advised Genie's mother to take this money—a little over eight thousand dollars—and withdraw the suit. However, Jean Butler Ruch convinced her to persist and both of her lawyers withdrew, leaving her to represent herself in court. According to ABC News and Russ Rymer, the suit was settled in 1984. However, in a 1993 letter to The New York Times responding to a review of Rymer's book, David Rigler wrote, "[T]he case never came to trial. It was dismissed by the Superior Court of the State of California 'with prejudice,' meaning that because it was without substance it can never again be refiled."
After the conclusion of the legal proceedings, despite several requests from David Rigler, Genie's mother refused to allow him or other members of the Genie team to see her. Susan Curtiss said that in late December 1977 she had been asked if she could be Genie's legal guardian, but that a week later, after a meeting with Genie in early January 1978, Genie's mother suddenly prevented Curtiss from seeing Genie and never contacted Curtiss again. With the exception of Jay Shurley she broke off all contact with the scientists, and moved in 1987 without leaving a forwarding address. Genie's mother began taking Genie with her on her visits to Ruch's house, but despite being allowed to see Genie, Ruch continued spreading negative rumors about Genie's condition, hoping to convince people that Curtiss' dissertation was largely based on fabrications. Although she continued attacking many of the scientists she especially targeted Curtiss, who had become a linguistics professor at UCLA, repeatedly calling her at her house and frequently attending Curtiss' lectures to ask hostile questions.[R]
While the lawsuit filed by Ruch had convinced Shurley, who had remained friendly with Genie's mother and Ruch, to work with her on a book detailing how the scientists had handled Genie; Shurley was self-described as, "bent on revelation". In 1984, one of the scientists who was marginally involved in the May 1971 grant proposal gave them positive feedback and encouraged them to publicize their side of the story as much as possible. However, after Shurley co-wrote one paper with Ruch the following year, he backed out after they delivered it at a conference together, saying he was shocked at how vicious and personal her attacks on the Genie team were. Despite his cynicism about many aspects of Genie's handling, he was willing to acknowledge that the scientists had been in a completely unprecedented situation and thought Ruch's attacks were so malicious as to be sadistic. His decision earned the enmity of Ruch, who continued her campaign against the scientists until 1986, when a stroke left her with aphasia. She died in 1988 following another stroke. In the late 1980s, Genie's mother was meeting with Shurley when, despite living in abject poverty, she declined an offer from unidentified major news network to tell her and Genie's story. Shurley commended the decision and said he thought it demonstrated Genie's mother had learned to stand up for herself.
Shurley saw Genie at her 27th birthday party, in 1984, and again about two years later, and she reportedly looked as if she had regressed. In an interview, he said on both of his visits she appeared very depressed and looked almost demented.[S] In 1992, Curtiss said that since she last saw Genie she only had two updates on Genie's condition, both of which indicated she barely spoke and was depressed and withdrawn. When Russ Rymer published his book on Genie in February 1993, he wrote she was in a large state institution for mentally retarded adults and only saw her mother one weekend every month. In the afterword of the 1994 edition of his book, he detailed conversations he had with Genie's mother shortly before the book's publication; at that time, she indicated to him that Genie was more regularly able to visit and—though her speech was hard to understand—was reportedly more verbal.
By mid-1993, the Riglers had reestablished contact with Genie's mother and had seen Genie for the first time in 15 years. David Rigler wrote in July 1993 that, "my wife and I have resumed our (now infrequent) visits with Genie and her mother." In response to a review of Rymer's book, which repeated what Rymer had originally said about Genie's living arrangements and had further alleged Genie was being inadequately cared for and isolated, Rigler wrote that Genie was living in a small, private board and care facility and that her mother regularly visited; he did not say how long Genie had been there. His response did not indicate exactly how and when he and Marilyn got back in touch with Genie's mother, only that she had invited them to come with her on one of her visits with Genie. When the Riglers visited Genie there for the first time, David Rigler said she seemed to be happier and had immediately recognized and greeted him and Marilyn by name, but did not comment further on her mental state.
Genie is currently a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area. In May 2008 ABC News reported that in 2000, someone who talked to them under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie. She was reportedly living in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she only spoke a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language. In 2003, Genie's mother died of unspecified natural causes at the age of 87. As of 2008, despite badly missing Genie and repeatedly attempting to find her, Susan Curtiss had still not seen her since January 1978. That same year Genie's brother told reporters he had not seen Genie since 1982 and said he wished he had been more involved in her life. By his own account, he had refused to watch or read any accounts of Genie's case and had only recently heard any updates on her. He was glad she had gotten so much attention, and said he was happy to hear that she was reportedly doing well where she was living.
After the Fritzl case came to light in late April 2008, ABC News ran two stories, almost two weeks apart in early May of that year, comparing the Fritzl case to Genie's. Their stories noted many of the similarities between Genie's father's abuse of his family and Josef Fritzl's imprisonment of his daughter and three of his grandchildren, and said the grandchildren Fritzl held captive had displayed many of the same physical and mental problems Genie had when she was found. Their first story featured interviews with James Kent and Curtiss—both of whom indicated they still had not seen Genie since early 1978—as well as an interview with a British special education graduate student who was doing her dissertation on Genie's case and had established a rapport with most of the people central to it. Reporters noted they unsuccessfully attempted to contact David Rigler, who was 87 years old, as he was reportedly in declining health. The second story contained an interview with the police officer who arrested Genie's parents, who said he vividly remembered the case and described some of the conditions he found inside their house.
Genie's brother was also interviewed for both stories, which was the first time he discussed his or Genie's life with anyone besides his ex-wife and former in-laws. In these interviews, he spoke in detail about both the abuse he saw his father inflict and about how their father abused him and forced him to keep silent. He said he only later fully understood how badly his parents had treated him and his sister; in addition to witnessing Genie's condition after escaping from their father, he said that upon leaving home he realized he was totally unprepared to live on his own. At the time of the interview, he had reportedly only just found out his mother had died. In addition, he talked about his life after escaping his parents' home; he said he spent several years drifting around the country and combating alcohol abuse, eventually becoming a house painter in Ohio, and was divorced and had a daughter and two grandchildren who lived nearby but with whom he rarely spoke. He did not say in either story whether his daughter or grandchildren had ever visited or attempted to see Genie or their mother. Finally, he indicated he was still struggling to cope with the trauma of his and Genie's upbringing and kept it out of his memory as much as possible, though he kept a small collection of family photographs from his early childhood and a few letters and pictures his mother sent him in the 1980s.
Author Russ Rymer wrote a two-part magazine article in The New Yorker entitled Genie: A Silent Childhood which ran in mid-April 1992, and the next year published a book—his first—called Genie: A Scientific Tragedy.[T] The works cover Genie's life up until the time of publication, as well as the scientific team who studied her; in addition, the book also summarizes the life of Victor of Aveyron and Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's work with him, discussing the movie The Wild Child and its effect on the public's view of both Victor's case and of feral children in general at length, and compares Victor and Genie and their respective handling by researchers. With the exception of Curtiss, who he acknowledges was working primarily out of compassion, Rymer posited that the other scientists pursued the study chiefly for the advancement of their own careers and egos, constantly fighting for control over the direction of the study and credit for the work and research being done.
For the writings, Rymer interviewed many of the scientists central to the case study, including Curtiss, James Kent, Howard Hansen, the Riglers, and Jay Shurley, as well as John Miner, Ursula Bellugi, and other scientists who were more peripherally involved. At the suggestion of David Rigler, Rymer interviewed the lawyers who had represented Genie's mother when she attempted to sue the scientists. To give further insight into the functioning of Genie's brain, he also spoke with Helen Neville, a psychologist and neuroscientist who had been a graduate student studying critical periods in cats under Eric Lenneberg at the time of Genie's case.[U] Rymer was also given access to several collections of videos and documents pertaining to the case, as well as some correspondence between Genie's mother and her lawyers. Although Rymer documented the case almost entirely from the scientists' perspectives, Genie's mother provided him with many of these documents, which he said was necessary to finish his book. He also wrote that when first started attempting to write the book he experienced far more difficulty than anticipated, and largely to distance himself from his work spent a year in Paris; when he found himself constantly focused on Genie, he decided to interview several historians about Victor of Aveyron and visited the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, where Victor had lived while working with Jean Marc Gaspard Itard.
Rymer wrote in the book that many of the scientists only very reluctantly spoke about the case, especially noting how tense David Rigler seemed when being interviewed. He further claimed that, by the time he spoke to them, they had mostly lost contact with one another. In November 1993, Rymer added an afterword for the 1994 edition of his book in which he said there had been a rift between many of the scientists. He said his interviews had caused some of the scientists to start speaking to each other again, and specifically wrote he had some role in reopening communication between the Riglers and Genie's mother. Rymer also indicated that, due to his book's attempts to reconcile the scientists' frequently disparate accounts, he anticipated at least some of them would have a strong negative reaction. In a 2008 interview Rymer said he was still scarred from covering the case, and said the divisions to which he had previously alluded made the book extremely difficult to write.
Rymer's New Yorker magazine articles were met with good reviews. The book was one of five finalists for the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Awards, in the category of general non-fiction. Upon its publication, it received several prominent reviews. Among them were an overall positive reception in the Los Angeles Times from author Nancy Mairs and in the New York Times from scientific reporter Natalie Angier; Angier, whose review was published in late April 1993, wrote she had previously read both of the magazine articles, and took an extremely negative view of the scientists.
Angier's review garnered very harsh criticism from Susan Curtiss and James Kent, who strongly disagreed with both the review and the book, and prompted David Rigler to make his first public statement on Genie's case. In a letter to the New York Times published in mid-June 1993, Rigler wrote that Angier's review was unfairly critical of the scientists, pointing to what he said were several major factual inaccuracies throughout her review of the book and the entire case. While he readily acknowledged researchers had numerous views on how to conduct research, he said with the exception of Butler/Ruch there was never any infighting between the researchers at the center of the case. Rather, he said they had worked together as best they could and tried to put Genie's best interests first, never making love and attention contingent on her developmental progress as the review and several interviews in the book alleged. He agreed there were many unusual actions taken during the study, but said this was because the case had no good precedent. Angier also claimed that during the time Genie's mother attempted to sue the scientists, they made numerous public accusations and filed several lawsuits against each other—except for detailing Ruch's attacks, which were undisputed, Rymer's book contained nothing which substantiated these allegations. Rigler wrote none of them publicly spoke about the case during the legal proceedings, and denied any of the scientists were ever involved in litigation against each other.[V]
Several books about feral and/or abused children contain chapters on Genie. Many books on linguistics and psychology also speak about Genie's case. Linguist Steven Pinker discussed Genie's case in his 1994 book The Language Instinct, in which he argues in support of Noam Chomsky's theory that first language acquisition is instinctive in humans; he noted the similarities between her speech and the gesture systems deaf children create. In 1997, linguist Geoffrey Sampson mentioned Genie in Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate, which specifically disputed Pinker's conclusions and more broadly attacked Chomsky's theory; among Sampson's arguments was that Genie's case did not, as Pinker argued, provide evidence for the innateness of language. In 2005, Sampson published The 'Language Instinct' Debate: Revised Edition, in and in it he responded to criticism of his original representation of Genie's case. His response acknowledged that Educating Eve did not mention Curtiss' post-1977 accounts of Genie's speech, and briefly discussed Peter Jones' analysis of these later writings; however, he wrote this had no significant impact on his conclusions regarding Genie and it was therefore unnecessary to reconsider his position on how her case related to his broader arguments.
Film and television
In 1994, Nova made a documentary on Genie titled Secret of the Wild Child. It was aired by PBS in the United States and by the BBC in the United Kingdom. Narrated by Stacy Keach, the documentary covered Genie's life up until the time the lawsuit was starting to be filed, mentioning Genie's then-current living arrangements at the end. The credits state that Rymer's book provided the basis for the documentary, and like that work it features segments on and comparisons to Victor of Aveyron and his handling by scientists.[W] It featured previously unreleased pictures and film of Genie, both by herself and working with people on the research team, and showed interviews with many of the scientists involved in Genie's case and both of the lawyers initially representing Genie's mother in 1977. For the sections primarily focused on Victor, the documentary showed an interview with historian Harlan Lane, who had co-authored a book about another feral child which drew extensive comparisons to Genie. The archived film from the UCLA library had significantly deteriorated, and required restoration for use in the documentary. Upon broadcast, the episode received positive reviews. The documentary won multiple Emmy Awards for news and documentary programming, in the category of informational or cultural programming, in both 1994 and 1995.
In 2002, an episode of the television series Body Shock on feral children entitled Wild Child included a segment on Genie.[X] The episode was aired by Channel 4 in the UK and on TLC in the United States. It discussed Genie's life until the time of the lawsuit, and at the end briefly mentioned she was still a ward of the state in California and that Susan Curtiss was still searching for Genie. The segment on Genie featured film of her, both by herself and with Curtiss, and showed pictures of Genie's family and clips of news footage showing her parents after their arrests. It also showed interviews with one of the police officers who arrested Genie's parents, a neighbor of Genie's parents during the time Genie was held in captivity, Curtiss, and James Kent, and showed Curtiss and Kent meeting with each other. The interview with the police officer was shot outside Genie's childhood house; he said it was the first time he had visited the house since the arrests and subsequent search, and pointed out one of the windows to Genie's room. To explain how Genie's brain became extremely right-hemisphere dominant, the segment showed an interview with child psychologist and neurologist Bruce D. Perry. The episode received a positive review in The Guardian.
The independent film Mockingbird Don't Sing, released in 2001, is based on Genie's case. Written by Daryl Haney and directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, it followed Genie's life until sometime just before her mother filed the lawsuit, at which point the film ends and messages flash across the screen informing viewers of what happened after the film's timeline. The film was written primarily from the perspective of Susan Curtiss, the only person who worked with Genie to be involved in its making. The DVD extras contain an interview with Curtiss, in which she discusses some of the aspects of grammar Genie could and could not acquire. Bromley Davenport said he was very sentimental about the movie and researched Genie's case for two years for it, recording around 40 hours of interviews with Curtiss; in an interview he concurred with Curtiss' negative assessment of Rymer's works, and said he thought very highly of Curtiss' work with Genie. For legal reasons, all of the names in the movie were changed. Upon its release, it met with mixed reviews. The movie tied for first place as the best screenplay at the 2001 Rhode Island International Film Festival.
- The scientists who studied Genie could never make any definite determinations about this time, and as a result could not discern whether Genie had truly begun to acquire language. Despite Genie's mother's claims, she could not recall exactly what words Genie spoke. Some of the scientists thought Genie may have learned some early language before losing it due to her isolation, while others believed that the very few individual words she knew upon admission to Children's Hospital were the full extent of her progress.
- This incident, which occurred when Genie was around three and a half years old, was the only time during Genie's captivity that her father allowed her to see a doctor.
- The police and the hospital almost entirely left Genie's brother on his own; after briefly staying with their mother he said she began dedicating all of her love and attention to Genie, at which point he decided to leave the area. He only returned once to visit in 1982, and eventually lost touch with the other members of his family.
- Although Genie would sit on her mother's lap when requested, she would remain very tense and got up as quickly as possible. At least once, upon getting away she immediately burst into a silent tantrum. Hospital staff noted Genie's mother seemed entirely oblivious to Genie's reactions; at least once, her mother commented on how happy she thought Genie had been.
- The scientists who studied Genie were never able to determine what linguistic input Genie had before her father imprisoned her, as their only information from this time was that Genie's father had already been trying not to speak to Genie, and as a result could not discern whether Genie had begun to acquire language during that time. Some of the scientists thought she may have learned some early language before losing it due to her isolation, while others believed that the words she knew upon admission were the full extent of her progress.
- The hospital told Shurley that she frequently did this despite a consistent bedtime of 8 PM; her mother only told Shurley about her late-night attempts to feed Genie in 1972, after his sleep studies. Shurley also noted that Genie had two nightly episodes of nocturnal enuresis, spaced at fairly consistent times. During his last sleep study in January 1972, when Genie no longer lived at Children's Hospital, she did not wake up during his tests.
- For instance, Genie could bathe herself at the level of a typical 9 year old, but she was still unable to chew food better than a 2–3 year old.
- In addition to comparisons with Victor of Aveyron, many of the papers written about Genie refer to language deprivation experiments which Psamtik I, King James IV of Scotland, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II purportedly carried or attempted to carry out. Both their papers and later accounts of Genie's case make mention of Carolus Linnaeus and his classification of homo ferus as distinct from regular humans, as he considered one of the main differences to be the lack of language in feral children.
- Lenneberg knew about the case but declined to participate, saying no definite conclusions could be drawn because the level of trauma associated with Genie's confinement and her father's beatings would be impossible to discern.
- The scientists later said there were many ideas regarding the scope of the study, and pinning its direction down was very difficult. A few said the environment grew increasingly hostile and became more focused on research than doing what was best for Genie; Elkind said he declined further involvement despite his longstanding personal friendship with Rigler, and Shurley claimed the atmosphere made him increasingly leery of Genie's handling and caused him to stay on the periphery. However, many others adamantly maintained there had neither been any animosity nor any notion that Genie's welfare was not the first priority. Instead, they said the difficulty was due to the exceptional nature of the case. Even Shurley said he fully understood how difficult it had been to give the study a coherent direction, and although he was surprised Rigler chose to focus on language acquisition—Shurley had pushed for greater focus on her social and emotional development, and he was only marginally aware of Fromkin's work prior to Rigler's decision but he did not object to it.
- Neither any of Curtiss' papers nor her dissertation ever acknowledge Butler's guardianship of Genie during this time. All of them indicate that Genie stayed at Children's Hospital until early August, at which time she moved in with a foster family.
- When Genie first moved in with the Riglers, Curtiss wrote that she was also eventually able to get Genie to listen when she was upset; Curtiss remembered being very surprised the first time she talked Genie down from a near tantrum, saying it was a very positive sign for Genie's development.
- For instance, in May 1975 the scientists administerd a Mooney Face Test, considered the best gestalt perception test. This test contains a set of 50 real and 20 false faces in black and white, and the object is to determine which ones are real and false. Genie got all of the real faces and only missed 6 false ones, far higher than a typical adult. Much later, in 1977, her capacity for stereognosis was at approximately the level of a typical 10 year old.
- However, Curtiss remembered one instance when they tested Genie's memory for design by forming a shape with colored sticks and having Genie replicate it from memory; they were surprised when Genie not only reconstructed the design but exactly copied the colors as well, even though they had only asked Genie to recreate the shape.
- However, early on she did not demonstrate these capacities in all of her drawings. For instance, in November 1971, when asked to draw a cat and a dog eating she drew both figures in profile; they each contained a detailed head and body, as well as depicting both with one eye, four legs, and a side-on view of a tongue and nose. Conversely, when asked a month later to draw a person she produced a drawing containing a straight-on view of a face with two ambiguous lines below it. The lines could have been intended to represent either limbs or a body. This surprised the scientists and Curtiss noted this drawing was remarkably primitive for Genie.
- Among Ruch's accusations was that Rigler intentionally added more people to the initial grant request than were ever involved in the case. When Rigler reviewed his request he reportedly found one psychologist whose name he did not remember, but said this had merely been an unintentional oversight.
- Given Genie's mother's otherwise passive nature, the scientists being sued strongly suspected from the beginning that Genie's mother was not the driving force behind the lawsuit. While David Rigler was giving his deposition, he discovered that Jean Butler Ruch had goaded Genie's mother into suing and had, unbeknownst to the scientists, gradually turned her against them. He later wrote that although Genie's mother filed the suit, Ruch had hired and paid for the lawyers. The lawyers reported that Ruch had been the one who convinced Genie's mother that Curtiss' dissertation had invaded her privacy and agreed with the scientists that, without Ruch, Genie's mother almost certainly would never have attempted to sue. They further acknowledged that throughout the legal proceedings Ruch was constantly trying to influence her, and one of them later said that Ruch "was a sort of Svengali for [Genie's mother]."
- Ruch's husband died of bone cancer in 1982; no one who later spoke about Genie's case said he was involved in Ruch's attempts to discredit the scientists.
- When Russ Rymer interviewed Shurley for his book on Genie, Shurley showed him two photographs from these visits; Rymer wrote that it took him several seconds to realize it was Genie in the photos, and only recognized her at all because of the oddly familiar patterns on her dresses. He described Genie in one of the pictures as having, "a facial expression of cowlike incomprehension", and noticed Shurley wrote on the back that Genie was very stooped over and made very little eye contact.
- Also published as Genie: An Abused Child's Flight From Silence and Genie: Escape From A Silent Childhood.
- For the magazine articles, Rymer had not spoken to Genie's mother, and at the time did not indicate whether he attempted to find or contact her. In the afterword to the 1994 edition of his book, Rymer said the scientists' conflicting views had spurred him to talk to Genie's mother for the book. He wrote she was very difficult to find and that when he first contacted her—he did not say exactly when this was—she did not want to speak to him, which he said had been a major setback. When he tried contacting her again, around a year and a half later, he only wanted to tell her the book was close to publication, and was surprised when she asked him to visit. He wrote she had again gone blind, this time from glaucoma. After befriending Genie's mother, he considered but decided against asking to go with her to visit Genie. He felt this would have intruded too much into her life, and while he acknowledged that meeting her would have been personally satisfying, readers would want details of their meeting; he said this would have kept him from writing an entirely third-person account, which he thought would have negatively impacted his book. He did not speak to Genie's brother, and did not indicate whether he attempted to contact him.
- Rigler made a few short comments on the book itself as well; besides responding to Rymer's claim that the lawsuit had been settled out of court, he also said the book, unlike Angier's review, had accurately documented the reasons and series of events leading up to Genie's initial admission to Children's Hospital.
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- Broadcast as Wild Child: The Story of Feral Children in the United States.
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- Curtiss, Susan (1977), Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child", Boston, MA: Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-196350-7, OCLC 3073433.
- Curtiss, Susan (1982), "Developmental dissociations of language and cognition", in Obler, Loraine K.; Menn, Lise, Exceptional Language and Linguistics, New York, NY: Academic Press, pp. 285–312, doi:10.1017/S0022226700010197, ISBN 978-0-12-523680-5, OCLC 8410214, archived from the original on May 29, 2013, retrieved May 1, 2013.
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