<-- Return to Genie Wiley
The Salt Lake City Tribune, 10 Dec 1972, page 2, "15-Year-Old 'Baby' Makes Gains", by Bruce Russell, Reuters News Agency : "Los Angeles — A 15-year-old girl, kept in diapers like a baby until she was 11 and able to speak only in grunts at that age, has advanced to the speaking ability of a 2-to-2 1/2-year-old child under a university-backed linguistics program.
The case of Susan Wiley, unable to talk, walk properly or chew after spending her childhood strapped in a chair in a dark room, caused a sensation when it became public here in November, 1970.
Her father, Clark Wiley, 70, shot himself to death Nov. 20, the day before he was to appear in court to face charges of cruelty to the child.
Authorities who took Susan in charge in 1970 said: "She can only make mumbling sounds in her throat." Susan's father fanatically hated noise and refused to let her speak or cry.
She was fed baby food and was unable to chew or swallow. According to authorities, Susan's mother, 50, partially blind and terrified of the father, was only allowed into the room a few seconds each day to stuff food into her mouth, which the child let drip and drain down her throat.
From being strapped in a baby's chair, muscles in her legs and arms were partially atrophied and she was unable to walk properly.
A complete publicity blackout was put on the case after Susan was lodged with foster parents here but recently accounts of her development have been released in academic circles under the title: "Extreme Psycho Social Adaption — The Case of Genie."
Victoria Fromkin, a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Los Angeles, has been working on a linguistics program for the child with two associates, Susan Curtiss and Stephen Krashen.
Prof. Fromkin said Susan had acquired a large vocabulary and the grammatical development of a 2-year-old but still spoke very little spontaneously.
'She has great difficulty in speech production,' she said. 'Whereas normal children learn to control their physical organs to make sounds, she still has to develop things like air volume from her lungs.
'But she seems to be progressing very well.
Prof. Fromkin said one advantage Susan had over a 2-year-old was that she had been able to learn to read and this had helped her speech.
'She knows the letters and can form sentences with words printed on cards.
Prof. Fromkin said one of the fascinating things about Susan's development was that although humans normally store speech mechanisms in the left side of the brain, Susan was using the right side of the brain.
Prof. Fromkin said she first met Susan four months after her father's death and immediately took her on a tour of a supermarket.
'She was really stimulus hungry. She touched and smelled things and held my hand to them for feelings, colors and smells she had been denied all her life.
The professor said when she offered the little girl a chocolate bar she stuffed it into her mouth and let it drain down her throat, the way she had done at home.
But in a foster home with three other older children she now had lots of contact with other people, received regular physical therapy and played basketball.