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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Wild boys never chose this way

We're back from France again. Went to the same place as last year, so I won't bore you with the details. This year was enhanced by hotter weather ( a definite improvement on the mudbath of New Wine, the theological content of which I will get round to posting about eventually) and children old enough to entertain themselves for longer thus leaving me and the missus with more time to read, relax and eat the local fayre, although I definitely do not recommend the tripe!

You know that thing where you say to your kids "Go on, eat up", well I wish I'd never said it after ordering "tripes a l'ancienne" only to discover it tasted like old socks and (possibly because it was a little too "ancienne") had a disastrous effect on my digestive system.

We also took in a local leisure facility called Cap Decouverte which I would thoroughly recommend if you're ever in the area.

Things I did on holiday I'd never done before (or not for a very long time anyway)

1. Eat Tripe (see above)

2. Ride a penny farthing (see photo)

3. Read an entire non-fiction book that wasn't about Theology or sport.
It was "Savage Girls and Wild Boys" by Michael Newton and I found it both moving and fascinating. It is about feral children through the ages and goes from the legend of Romulus and Remus through the medieval wild children of Europe to Kaspar Hauser, to awful stories of modern abuse of children locked away from human contact ( It was written before Josef Fritzl's abuse came to light).
I was interested in it initially because one of the cases was relatively local to where we were staying; then my background in linguistics kicked in (Newton quotes the first books on linguistics I ever read "Transformational Syntax" and "The Articulate Mammal").
Finally my passions were aroused because I just wanted to shout at the author "They have autism!" I know that's a bit of a generalisation, and it doesn't apply to the children who were abused, (except Kaspar Hauser) but the cases Newton examines mostly concern children who have little or no understanding of human language or social interaction, and are discovered living wild with animals. The experts attribute their lack of understanding of human social communication to the fact that they have lived in isolation or with animals whose social communication they do understand. Newton then reflects philosophically on what it means to be human (as opposed to simian/animal) concluding that it has to do with spoken language and "souls" - a useful term he uses to describe the treatment some of these kids went through is "soul murder".
However, having become something of an Autistic Spectrum nerd over the last 18 months (I have a son recently diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum and there are at least 2 other kids in our churches on the spectrum - don't get me started on undiagnosed adults), the descriptions of the children just kept pointing towards autism; thus an alternative view might be that far from developing these strange habits while living with animals, these kids had them when they were abandoned and/or rejected by their families and communities - indeed they are the reason they were rejected in the first place.
Any parent of a kid with ASD will know the frustrations that come with that; hundreds of years ago it was acceptable to ride into the woods and leave an unmanageable child there. Being human is a much more inclusive activity these days.
If anyone else out there has any helpful things to say about this I'd value them

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