Genie is the pseudonym for a feral child who spent nearly all of the first thirteen years of her life locked inside a bedroom strapped to a potty chair. She was a victim of one of the most severe cases of social isolation in American history. Genie was discovered by Los Angeles authorities on November 4, 1970.
Genie’s parents lived in Arcadia, California. She was their fourth (and second surviving) child and had an older brother who also lived in the home. Genie spent the next 12 years of her life locked in her bedroom. During the day, she was tied to a child’s potty chair in diapers; some nights, when she hadn’t been completely forgotten, she was bound in a sleeping bag and placed in an enclosed crib with a cover made of metal screening. Indications are that Genie’s father beat her with a large stick if she vocalized, and he barked and growled at her like a dog in order to keep her quiet. He also rarely allowed his wife and son to leave the house or even to speak, and he expressly forbade them to speak to Genie. By the age of 13, Genie was almost entirely mute, commanding a vocabulary of about 20 words and a few short phrases (nearly all negative, such as “stop it” and “no more”).
Genie was discovered at the age of 13 when her mother left her husband and took Genie with her. On November 4, 1970, the two entered a welfare office in Temple City, California, to seek benefits for the blind. A social worker met them and guessed that Genie was 6 or 7 years old and possibly autistic. When it was revealed that she was actually 13, the social worker immediately called her supervisor, who then notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Genie had developed a characteristic “bunny walk”, in which she held her hands up in front, like paws. Although she was almost entirely silent, she constantly sniffed, spat, and clawed. Many of the items she coveted were objects with which she could play. In spite of her condition, hospital staff hoped they could nurture her to normality. When interest in the case widened, Genie became the focus of an investigation to provide evidence supporting the theory that humans have a critical age threshold for language acquisition. Within a few months of therapy, she had advanced to one-word answers and had learned to dress herself. Her doctors predicted complete success. Doctors screened François Truffaut’s movie The Wild Child for ideas. Genie was initially moved out of the hospital to the home of Jean Butler, and later was moved to live with psychologist David Rigler, his wife and children, where she remained for four years.
What they don’t say is that the experiment lost funding and she was put into foster care for disabled adults, where she was abused. She is now in a group home and cannot speak.