The subject of wild children has fascinated me for several years. Now to find out that two children were found in Ukraine living among wild dogs; also asked the researchers questions about language development and human psychology.
Victor: The first documented feral child
Victor was an 11-year-old boy found in January 1800 near Saint Sernin sur Rance in southern France. Victor survived 11 years by living in the forest; he crawled around on all fours and stole food from people’s gardens.
It is believed that since he had no human contact for the first 11 years of his life, he likely acquired the social skills he had from animals. He wore no clothes and his body had several scars, old and new, from life in the wild.
When Victor was found, he could not speak any human language. Researchers at the time attempted to resocialize Victor to more appropriate social norms of the time and attempted to teach him language. They made little progress.
Victor lived to be 40 years old, which was probably the average life expectancy of that time. He could never be socialized to live the kind of life that most of us would consider normal and healthy. Since Victor’s case, psychologists and sociologists have taken a keen interest in language development in social neglect.
Wild children in modern society
In 1991, an 8-year-old girl was found in Novaya Blagoveschenka, Ukraine. Her name was Oxanna Malaya. At the time she was discovered, she was living in the backyard of her family home in a kennel.
She had befriended the dogs in the yard and basically adopted their behavior and actions. She went on all fours, growling and barking. She would defend territory in an aggressive display similar to that of an angry dog. She had minimal human language skills, but like her canine companions, communicated through animal-like actions.
Also, in 1999, a little boy named Edik was discovered in Mirny, Ukraine. Edik was 4 years old when he was discovered. Edik lived alone in a shabby apartment in a very poor area of Ukraine.
He had feral dogs living with him in the home, some say he had at least three dogs with him at all times.
Researchers believe it was the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals that strengthened the bond and created the “pack” mentality between the cub and the dogs. The dogs determined that the boy would provide a source of food, no matter how rare; which meant the dogs didn’t have to hunt. In return, the dogs provided the boy with affection and companionship.
What did Oxanna and Edik achieve today?
Today, Oxanna and Edik are not classified as true feral children due to their earlier human socialization and the fact that they had some basic language skills from an early age.
But to this day, their language skills lag behind their chronological development. Researchers believe Oxanna’s language skills will always lag behind other people her age because she was discovered past the age at which the brain can restore those skills to full functioning.
Edik, on the other hand, has made good progress. His language skills are still behind other children his age. But research believes he will be able to regain enough speech to function well in society. They believe this is solely due to the fact that it was discovered young enough that the brain can still learn the basic fundamentals of language development.
Today, Oxanna and Edik live in foster homes where they interact with other people and staff. Both Oxanna and Edik have dogs in the homes they live in so they can still enjoy them as pets. They no longer depend on these animals for survival, so their relationship with the animals has changed a lot.
Both Oxanna and Edik now walk on 2 legs like all of us and wear socially appropriate clothing. It took months and years for both of them to learn these basic social norms. An update from 2010 reveals that Oxana is now trying to locate her biological mother and father in order to learn more about herself.
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