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September 12, 1966

The Birth of Language: The Case History of a Non-Verbal Child

JAMA. 1966;197(11):932. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03110110156050

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In the past, most children who failed to learn to talk properly were labeled "mentally deficient" and forgotten in institutions. Gradually we have learned to identify and treat certain groups—those due to metabolic disorders, autism, brain damage. Diagnosis is still difficult and usually requires the cooperation of pediatricians, neurologists, otologists, speech therapists, psychiatrists. If brain damage is diagnosed, the tremendous problem of treatment remains. This book tells the story of the successful treatment of one such child.

Joan was premature—birth weight 992 gm (2 lb, 3 oz). Except for retrolental fibroplasia from which she recovered completely, she made good physical progress, eating, sleeping, and growing well. But she was a restless, unresponsive infant. By age 3, she was active, destructive, apparently unable to recognize or distinguish members of her family, unable to use language or to communicate in any way. She was examined at a speech clinic at 3 1/2