The Strange Case of Genie

Genie, or Susan M. Wiley, is one of the people on the list of so-called “feral children” or “wild children.”


Genie, or Susan M. Wiley, is one of the people on the list of so-called “feral children” or “wild children.” For several centuries the appearance of these children has been documented and many myths have been woven around them. It is said that they have been reared by wolves, dogs, goats, but nothing has been completely documented.

What is known is that all these feral children come from neglect or severe forms of isolation and therefore acquire characteristics that many call “wild”. Its development has been outside of human society and therefore exhibit behaviors different from those of the species.

The case of Genie

Genie’s case is one of the best documented that exists to this day. It was a girl born in 1957, in a suburb of California. He lived with his parents and with a brother, in a very sordid environment. His father and mother had lawsuits that included physical violence; Clark, the father, suffered from depression; and Irene, his mother, had a problem of progressive blindness.

The girl was born with a hip dislocation and it took a long time to talk. At 20 months, a doctor diagnosed that he might have mental retardation. That made his father panic, who thought the authorities could take away his daughter. That’s why he decided to isolate it.

Between the ages of two and thirteen, Genie had no contact with the outside world. It was cloistered in a sealed room, with no objects on the walls, and tied to a chamber pot. At night it was locked and tied in a cage. His only link to the world was his father. He was forbidden to make any kind of sound and if he did, Clark would hit her or bark at her like a dog to scare her.

The other inhabitants of the house also remained isolated, but they had permits to leave from time to time. The father watched them from a chair, with a loaded pistol in his hand. Everyone was forbidden to talk to Genie, even the mother.

The exterior world

In the mid-1970s, Irene, Genie’s mother, ran away from home with her two children and asked for help in welfare services.

The person who received them noticed that the girl had a behavior that was too strange and that she could barely pronounce some sounds; He also walked in an abnormal way. That is why he reported the case and Genie was in the custody of the State.

At the Children’s Hospital of California began a long and rugged treatment, in addition to a strong debate. With the treatment was intended to learn to talk and socialize; the debate revolved around the effect of socialization on brain development. In Genie’s case, it was as if the left hemisphere had been removed.

It was one of the researchers who gave the girl the name of “Genie”, hinting that it was like, in the Lamp of Aladdin, a genius who wanted to leave. This researcher took her home to live in a suitable environment and then wanted to adopt her. The authorities refused, despite the fact that the girl showed great signs of improvement.

So, they returned her to the hospital; then they returned custody to the mother and then went through six substitute homes. His development process stopped, and even in some moments he involuted. Finally, it was in charge of an institution for adults with cognitive disabilities, but a court order prevents giving more information about it.