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May 22, 1955 - Image 13

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1955-05-22

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Sunday, May 22, 1955


Page Seven

Case Studies Illustrate Factors Behind Delinquency

Specific Behavior
Must Be Analyzed
AL WAS 14 when he was referred
to a psychiatric clinic by a ju-
venile court because of serious de-
His disturbed behavior began
when he was 10 years of age. At
that time he skipped school oc-
casionally, was defiant toward
teachers and generally upsetting to
the classroom routine. He was re-
ferred to the Visiting Teacher and
received individual attention from
her to which he appeared to re-
spond with some improvement in
his general behavior in school.
To a lesser degree his difficulties
continued however. At the age of
12 he began to get into more seri-
ous trouble, truanting from home,
staying out all night and stealing
from stores. At 14 he began to steal
cars and was referred to us after
a highway accident in which a,
stolen car he was driving overturn-
ed in a ditch.
FAMILY history indicated dis-
turbance at many levels. The
parents were divorced when Al was
five years of age. The father,
markedly disturbed, had been ir-
responsible in the home, abusive
to his wife and to Al, especially
when he had been drinking. The
mother had worked in a factory
from the time of the divorce. There
was a younger sister, age 12, who
was getting along well and pre-
sented no major problems.
In the clinic, physical examina-
tion revealed a well developed 14-
year old boy in good health. In
psychologic testing on the Wech-
sler Intelligence Tests Al attained
a verbal I.Q. of 96, a performance
I.Q. of 118. He was found to be
of superior intellectual potential,
functioning extremely well in tests
requiring visual motor coordination
and skill.
I NTERVIEW with the mother re-
vealed a careworn, anxious and
somewhat depressed woman of .6
who felt much concern about Al
and felt guilty about his difficul-
ties. She described her marriage as
an impossible one from the begin-
ning, characterized herself as
somewhat impatient with the chil-
dren largely because of fatigue.
As she described her own life, it
was evident that she was basically
inhappy and ungratified, finding
satisfactions for the most part
only in her children.
In psychiatric interview Al was
seen to be a bright, somewhat sul-
len and very hostile 14-year old, at
first very defensive and guarded in
response to questioning. It was im-
mediately apparent, despite his
rather cold and disinterested atti-
tude, that he had marked anxiety

p .._.

Early Deprivation
Can Distort Life
BILL was referred for psychiatric
study at age 9 because of
vandalism, running away, indis-
criminate stealing and failure to
adjust at school.
History indicated that Bill was
born out of wedlock to a 17-year-
old girl who was totally unable to
care for him. He lived with his
mother in her mother's home until
the age of 7 months, at which
time he was placed by the family
in a boarding home.
He remained there only 4
months, then hospitalized 3
months for malnutrition. After
this period he was placed in a
large nursery for group care and
remained until the age of 2%
years, when he went to a foster
family. It tas an excellent home,
anxious to have Bill and very giv-
THE CHILD, however, adjusted
poorly from the beginning. He
wandered away from the home,
was destructive and very primi-
tive in his behavior. Despite the
strongest efforts on the part of
the foster parents to reach him, he
seemed remote from them and
failed to return their affection.
Finally after 2 years the foster
parents realized that Bill was not
responding and asked that he be

placed elsewhere. Since this time
Bill has been in a series of foster
homes and his delinquency has be-
come more marked with the pass-
ing years.
In interview Bill was seen to be
a very charming, out-going boy
of 9, of average intellectual po-
tential. He was little concerned
about his difficulties, talked glib-
ly and easily and in the course of
interviews revealed a very shallow,
empty inner life.
THE origin of Bill's trouble, as
we now understand his condi-
tion, was in his first years. Because
of numerous placements he had
had no opportunity to establish a
primary mother relationship, and
by the time a suitable opportunitv
was afforded him, the damage was
too great and he was unable to
respond. Bill, originally potentially
normal and in fact potentially
gifted, was now at the age of 9 a
gross delinquent. Early depriva-
tion had denied him the oppor-
tunity for the incorporation of so-
cial values through early human
As a result of understanding
children like Bill, an important
change has occurred in the plan-
ning for abandoned and neglected
infants. Instead of institutional
care, such children are now of-
fered opportunity for a one-to-
one mother relationship in a
foster home as close to the time
of birth as possible.

THE CAUSES of delinquency are varied and complex. Som
children become delinquents because it is the generally accepte
behavior of the community they live in.


and much concern about himself.
Gradually he was able to express
his anxiety, and in projective iii-
terviews revealed a troubled inner
life that motivated his delinquen-
In the course of interviews he
described his confusion about the
divorce. He had many fantasies
about his father and these were
markedly ambivalent. He wanted
very much to view his father in a
positive light and try to find ex-
tehuations for what he knew and
remembered of the father's earlier
brutality and neglect.
A RECURRENT fantasy was re-
lated to his own responsibility
for the divorce. He felt that he
had been "bad" when his father
was at home, that he had not
obeyed, and that his father was
angry with him. He remembered
specific minor incidents in which
he had irritated his father and
fantasied that these had led to the
father's leaving home.
Through the years the mother,
concerned with the boy's delin-
quency, had unwittingly compared
him with his father. She would tell
him, when she was most disturb-
ed, that he was just like his fa-
ther, irresponsible and ungrateful.
In his fantasy Al was in many ways
identified with his father and,

along with his need for his father,
he had a need to be like him. At
the same time he was frightened
of this identification, and detailed
history indicated many evidences
of regression through which Al
tended to protect himself from
growing up like his father.
There were many other concerns
and conflicts present in the
thought content and fantasies of
this boy. Careful study indicated
clearly the disabling nature of his
neurosis. It was possible to relate
his delinquencies to the content of
his inner life, and Al proved an-
xious for help and was able to ac-
cept it.
THIS abreviated case history is
typical of that found in many
delinguent children and adoles-
cents. There was a time when the
diagnosis would have been con-
duct disorder - truancy, stealing,
destructiveness. This of course is
purely descriptive and gives us no
insight into the inner life motivat-
ing the behavior. Many children
may present a similar behavior
pattern, but the motivation under-
lying the behavior may be very
different in each child. The tech-
niques and the insights that allow
for the investigation and the un-
derstanding of the inner life are
the contributions of modern dy-
namic psychology.

f ',


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