When Itard undertook to teach the wild boy of Aveyron, with sympathy, patience, and an optimism about the plasticity of the human mind that was characteristic of his time, he engaged the interest of educated men everywhere. He used the most enlightened instructional methods of his time. When he was unable to lead the boy to complete normalcy, he felt himself a failure, and apparently the world agreed with him. An air of hopelessness settled over the retarded and has scarcely been lifted since.
Now, some 165 years later, a new measure is being taken of the problem of mental retardation. There is emerging a reasoned optimism, justified by modest advances in basic knowledge and encouraged by a quickened public conscience. There is also emerging a new strategy that eschews the quick cure but insists that we begin to use the knowledge we already have while intensifying our search for new and basic understandings.
This book is an expression of this last important commitment, a search for new and basic understandings. Though formidable in size, its scope is wisely limited to one domain, to that of behavior; and it seeks to assess where we are and how we may most profitably proceed to build a behavior science for the mentally retarded.
The editor and his colleagues share two important ideas: that mental retardation should not be an isolated study; that, on the contrary, its special problems can best be cast in general behavior theory terms. As a corollary to this, they hold and have here demonstrated that the field of mental retardation offers many opportunities and challenges to the behavioral scientist who has reached a point of no return with his subjects who cannot use