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New York State Asylum For Idiots, Second Annual Report Of The Trustees

Creator: n/a
Date: February 10, 1853
Source: Steve Taylor Collection

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I need hardly add, that with such a variety of subject and exercises, great care and judgment are always requisite (on the part of the teachers) in adapting the steps of instruction to the pupils' capacity; great patience in dwelling, sometimes with faint hope, upon the points of difficulty; and I beg your attention to this fact in justice to the teachers under my direction, they having always to depend upon principles rather than rules.


I ought not to omit, even in a brief account of our daily exercises, to mention that we have a class of girls in sewing for an hour each day. Some of the little girls can do little more than hold a needle in their hands or even a piece of cloth, hut they gradually acquire a curiosity to notice what the others are doing, and will in the same gradual manner make the first attempts towards sewing. During the summer past, the elder members of the class have made twenty-four sheets; twenty-four towels; forty pillow-cases, besides hemming a large number of pocket handkerchiefs. Their success already gives promise that they will in time be able to do much of the sewing required in such an institution.


Nor need this, or will this be the only industrial occupation to be profitable carried on in the asylum, when a series of years shall have given further development to the pupils.


Out of school hours, there is the same systematic employment of time on the part of the children, though with a studious concealment of anything that may seem like restraint during those periods.


The children rise early, the older ones taking a walk in the open air or active exercises within doors in addition to their preparation for breakfast. Considerable time is spent with the younger and lower grades of pupils in teaching them step by step, and little by little in the matter of dressing themselves, from barely holding out an arm for the reception of a sleeve up to all the mysteries of buttons, hooks and eyes and shoe-ties.


After breakfast, the older ones make their beds and assist in other simple household duties. All take as much exercise as possible, till nine, the hour of school. At eleven there is a recess of half an hour with a slight lunch. School ends at half past twelve for the forenoon session. Dinner is at one, consuming some time, as we regard it of great importance to inculcate habits of decorum, of moderation, and general propriety. Each is required to wait till all are helped, and then to eat slowly.


After dinner they are occupied in plays of various sorts, till three, when school begins again. At half past four school closes for the day. Then follow, with a short interval for supper, under the supervision of intelligent persons, a great variety of exercises and amusements. We have military exercises for the boys; gymnastic exercises for the girls; dancing, singing, games of various sorts. These all deserve as high a place in any system of education for idiots as the more customary matters of instruction, and they are carried on here under as much supervision as the school exercises. It is in these out of school employments that the pupils acquire that little every day knowledge and judgment, that they are so entirely destitute of when they come to us.


On the Sabbath, they are divided into smaller companies and scattered through the house, to encourage a more quiet deportment than on other days. We are compelled, however, to have systematic exercises on that day. In the afternoon, the older children have a sunday-school, in which they are taught simple moral duties, scripture history in its simplest form, and children's songs.


In the evening they spend an hour in listening to the reading of such stories as are adapted to their comprehension, manifesting much interest and pleasure.


Were we at a more convenient access from any house of religious worship, we have quite a class that would conduct themselves with propriety in attending it, and would certainly receive one benefit from it, that of increased reverence.


From a residence of a longer or shorter period, under the circumstances and influences I have mentioned, the results have been as described in the following cases.


These descriptions are given without any reference to scientific order of accuracy; and as far as possible, in the very language of the reports sent us by the family physicians in every case, and upon which they are based, and in the testimony of the parents. As to the results given, the approach to and progress in the ordinary acquirements of children are not fair exponents of their real mental development.


CASE No. 1.


A lad of 10 years old, well formed, healthy and cleanly in his habits, though of rather irritable temper, and quite mischievous; he came October 29th, 1851; he did not speak at all till five years old; could not tell his age; did not know a single letter; could not count or distinguish colors; was excessively timid.


Cause -- had severe convulsions when a year old, lasting for ten days.


He is now much less mischievous; less irritable and nervous; he knows two-thirds of the letters of the alphabet; can spell quite a number of words; can count 15; has quite an idea of forms and colors; can form some letters on the black-board, and is in a class in drawing, and also in Webb's First Reader.

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