Last month, British child psychologist Lyn Fry, an expert on feral children, went to the Baraboy Clinic, a home for the mentally handicapped in Ukraine with a Channel Four film crew to meet 23-year-old Oxana Malaya, one of only about 100 feral children known in the world.
At the age of three, Oxana’s alcoholic parents left her unattended outside during a cold Ukrainian night. To keep warm, the young girl crawled into a kennel where the dogs were kept. When no one came to look for her for five years, the girl forgot the rudiment’s of human language and adopted the behaviors and mannerisms of the dogs she lived with. When she was found at the age of eight, she ran around on all fours, barked— not like a human pretending to bark, but like an actual dog— sniffed her food before eating it, and had developed extremely acute senses of hearing, smell, and sight.
Ms. Fry reports that Oxana’s speech is odd, with ‘no cadence or rhythm or music to her speech, no inflection or tone,’ and that ‘there is a palpable air of menace and brute strength’ about her when she jokingly pushes or shoves her friends, but otherwise the young woman has a sense of humor. Cognitive tests indicate that Oxana has the mental capacity of a six-year old and a ‘dangerously low boredom threshold.’ She can count but not add up, nor can she read or spell her name correctly. She is not autistic, as feral children are sometimes thought to be, but she has difficulty learning normally.
Oxana’s case has been of keen interest to child psychologists who believe feral children can help resolve the nature vs. nurture debate, but unfortunately Ukrainian authorities did not make detailed documentation on the girl’s physical and mental state when she was found.
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