Victor of Aveyron
( Feral child — France )


Victor of Aveyron (also The Wild Boy of Aveyron) was a feral child who apparently lived his entire childhood naked and alone in the woods before being found wandering the woods near Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance, France in 1797. He was captured, but soon escaped. He was then captured again and kept in the care of a local woman for about a week before he escaped once more.
However, on January 8, 1800, he emerged from the forests on his own, perhaps habituated to human kindness after his second experience. His age was unknown but citizens of the village estimated that he was about twelve years old. His lack of speech, as well as his food preferences and the numerous scars on his body, indicated that he had been in the wild for the majority of his life.

This remarkable situation came about at the end of the Enlightenment, when many were debating what exactly distinguished man from animal. One of the prevailing opinions involved the ability to learn language; it was hoped that by studying the wild boy, they would learn the answer.
Shortly after Victor's amazing discovery, a local abbot and biology professor, Pierre Joseph Bonnaterre, examined him. He removed the boy's clothing and led him outside into the snow, where, far from being upset, Victor began to frolic about in the nude. This indicated to some that human reaction to temperature is greatly a result of conditioning and experience.
Despite the fact that he could hear, Victor was taken to the National Institute of the Deaf for the purpose of study (this was an age in which mute people were often considered to be deaf). He became a case study in the Enlightenment debate about the differences between humans and animals.

Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, a young medical student, took on the remarkable case as his own. Itard believed that two things separated humans from animals: empathy and language. He wanted to be the first person fully to civilize a wild child and attempted, primarily, to teach Victor to speak and show human emotion. Though initially successful — Victor showed significant progress, at least, in understanding language and reading simple words — he eventually slowed down to the point that Itard abandoned the experiment. The only word that Victor ever actually learned to spell out was lait (milk). Professor Uta Frith stated she believed Victor displayed the signs of autism. Modern scholars now believe, partly by studying such feral children, that language acquisition must take place in a critical period of early childhood if it is to be successful. Though Itard failed at teaching Victor language he had a breakthrough emotionally.

Victor lived with Itard and his housekeeper Madame Guérin. One night, while setting the table, Victor noticed Madame Guérin crying over the loss of her husband; he stopped what he was doing and consoled her, thus showing empathy. Itard took this as a major breakthrough in the case proving that the wild child was still capable of showing his humanity.
The Wild Boy of Aveyron died in Paris in 1828.

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