Mental Defectives. One of the greatest
social problems in America is the large and constant increase in
feeble-mindedness. Less than a decade ago the world woke up to this
fact—for the problem is not confined to America but is world-wide—and
realized something of its portent. We now know that almost every
orphanage contains some feeble-minded children; that every child-placing
agency unavoidably handles some every year; that from 15 to 50 per
cent of the delinquents in the reform and industrial schools are
of subnormal mentality; and that the special institutions for the
feeble-minded are crowded and have long waiting lists. The situation
demands immediate, definite, scientific, and systematic action.
Diagnosis is one practical essential, long neglected but now generally
demanded and increasingly applied. It is not too much to ask that
all child-placing agencies and child-caring institutions arrange
for the psychological examination of wards, in order to determine
their relative mental ages and possibilities. Any that show possible
signs of mental disease should be treated by skilled psychiatrists.
The merely backward should be identified, and efforts made to assure
their speedy advance to normality. The constitutionally defective
should be definitely determined, and should be placed in proper
institutions. To put a low grade mental defective in a family home
where a normal child was expected is a social crime, once to be
condoned because of ignorance, but now inexcusable in a well-ordered
and progressive child-placing agency. . . .
The following classification scheme was prepared for a previous
volume, Child Welfare Work in Pennsylvania, and is again offered
as comprehensible to the average layman and probably not objectionable
to the expert psychologist:
1. Idiots. Those of the lowest class of mental defectives are termed
idiots. These require asylum care, are very slightly improvable,
and none ever exceeds the mental capacity of the average child of
2. Idio-Imbeciles. Those of the next grade are called idio-imbeciles.
They also require asylum care, are more improvable, in a limited
way can be trained to assist others, and in mental capacity are
equal to the average child of from three to five years.
3. Imbeciles. Those of the third grade are generally called imbeciles.
They require custodial life and perpetual guardianship, are morally
deficient, can be trained in some manual and industrial occupations,
are often plotters of mischief with a genius for evil, and in mental
capacity are equal to the average child of from six to nine years.
4. Morons. Those of the highest class of constitutionally mentally
defective recently have been called morons. They require long apprenticeship
and colony life under protection, are trainable in the manual arts
and many mental acquirements, lack mainly in will, balance, and
judgment, and in mental capacity grade with the average child of
from ten to twelve years old.
5. Dullards. Another class, not distinctly defined, is that of
the backward or mentally feeble. These are sometimes wrongly included
with the morons, from whom it is often difficult to distinguish
them. But morons are constitutionally defective, and can never become
normal in mentality. Dullards are normal in their mental powers
and processes, which have been enfeebled by disease or retarded
by lack of opportunity. They require special training to develop
their latent powers, and usually medical attention, a prescribed
diet, and improved environment. The special schools for backward
children are established partly to meet their needs, and partly
to define and give adequate attention to imbeciles and morons. . . .
While institutional care is essential to all the lower classes,
there are many of the moron class who will be far better off in
family homes than in institutions. The families in which they are
placed must be selected with especial reference to the humane and
honorable care of such wards, and of course must have full information
as to the children’s mental limitations; and proper public
or private agencies must keep such homes and children under special
and permanent supervision. Dullards, not being constitutionally
deficient, may often be most quickly renewed in physical and mental
vigor and greatly improved, if not wholly brought up to normal conditions,
by placement in first-class family homes.