Well dang if I can find it, but I distinctly recall reading a sidebar in an old college textbook about a feral boy (close to full adulthood, actually) who was discovered in a European forest sometime in the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century. It was widely thought that the fellow was lost or abandoned in the woods as a small child and learned to survive on his own.
When captured and brought to “civilization”, the “wild man” became a servant to an early behavioral observer. He had trouble learning more than a couple hundred spoken words, and had very serious memory problems (i.e., when given an instruction, he had to perform it right then or risk forgetting it completely. I think he improved over time.
Yeah, I know, it sounds like Tarzan, sounds improbable, could have been just a nutbag, but I swear I read it in a reputable source. If anyone can help me with the citation, I’ll appreciate it.
Why am I so willing to recount a half-remembered source and expect you to believe it? Well, as a child, I lived for a summer in an orphanage with two people who had a similar upbringing. These two brothers were about ages 9 and 11, had been locked in a single room and fed through a hole in the wall, with virtually no contact with any other people until they were discovered at least two years before I met them. I was about 11 myself, which is worth keeping in mind.
They, too, had serious language and memory problems, but they had no problems whatsoever communicating with one another at a subverbal level that I found fascinating as a kid but cannot easily explain. I recall that the two of them would work together, silently, piecing together puzzles and model airplanes, and playing with legos with a deftness that belied their apparent “retardation,” which is how the other kids described their problem. They were, however, very easily confused and distracted, which the other kids used to keep the two of them in a near-perpetual state of torment and agitation. Even when at their angriest, their expressions were only slightly more animated than what I would call stoic. They never smiled.
Nevertheless, my impression was that their biggest problem was verbal; cognitively they seemed to be brighter than the kids who picked on them, although I can’t give any specific examples other than the way they played with their toys.
I didn’t pick on them, dammit. I hope someone mentions that at my funeral, because it might wind up being the finest thing I ever did.