n South African Psychiatry Review - A feral family on our doorstep : case report




A family was discovered living in isolation in the Free State region of South Africa. Certain members of this family, (the mother and three sons and a daughter) displayed primitive and ape-like behaviour, prompting the local and international press to refer to them as a feral family. The affected members of the family are presented as a case study describing how the family became isolated, their response to outside intervention and eventually how the family was "discovered". Clinical presentations are also documented as well as the therapeutic interventions used. After evaluation, the affected members of the family were shown to have various degrees of mental retardation. The words 'feral' and 'neglect' are defined and certain similar documented cases of feral children discovered previously in other regions are mentioned. The etiology of the condition is explored, discussing the effects of the environment on various aspects of neural development in children, especially referring to the lack of neuro-stimulation and other insults to the brain during the critical phase of brain plasticity. Cognitive deficits, poor mastery of language and decrease in brain size are often found in feral children. The role of a child's genetic predisposition and a paucity of environmental stimulation is also explained in the article.


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