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Mental Defect

feeble, cent, institutional, minded and thirty

MENTAL DEFECT From the baby's standpoint we found reasons for advocating the segregation and continued custodial care of the mentally defective, who, if at large, might become their fathers and mothers. If by some Bluebird magic we could conjure the unborn babies into a council, we may be sure that, for many reasons, they would choose other than the feeble-minded for parents.

Both on grounds of fact and of theory, says the British Royal Commission on this subject, there is the highest degree of probability that "feeble mindedness" is usually spontaneous in origin, that is, not due to influences acting on the parent, and tends strongly to be inherited. If this is so, prevention is not to be expected through such means as lessen sickness and injuries, but rather by such means as prevent this inheritance. It is in the years of adolescence and early maturity that the need for custodial institutional care is greatest, as our laws recognize and the ages of the actual popula tion of the institutions indicate. In 1910 forty per cent of those in institutions for the feeble minded were between ten and twenty, nearly thirty per cent between twenty and thirty. Perhaps it might be better if these particular proportions were reversed by leaving children under fifteen with their parents when the home conditions are at all favorable, and concentrating, for the present, rather on those from fifteen to thirty or forty. Patients of this kind are, however, happier in their institutional life if they have not, before entering upon it, been corrupted by a taste for drink, dance halls, and other low pleasures. While more than

eighty per cent of the insane are in hospitals or asylums, less than ten per cent of the feeble minded in all are in institutions. In all the South the census reports only six Negroes in special in stitutions for the feeble-minded in z9zo. There is as much need of institutional care for the feeble minded as for the insane, both from the point of view of the comfort and welfare of the individual and from the point of view of the safety and welfare of society. They are, in a sense, as Dr. Barr points out, a waste product, but one of the great culmina tions of the nineteenth century, as he also points out, was the utilization of waste products, and it is an example of this that there has been recognition of the true status of the imbecile, his possibilities and his limitations, and that there has been created for him a sphere in which, trained and encouraged in congenial occupation, he may attain to a cer tain degree of independence, growing to be no longer a menace to society nor altogether a helpless bur den. Dr. Fernald once estimated that two in a thousand of the whole population are mentally defective. If in the manner urged by all authorities we can breed that element out of the population, or even half of it, the gain will be beyond calcula tion. Adolescence is the time of life when it is most important that feeble-mindedness, if it exists, shall be definitely ascertained and appropriately treated.