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Leonard, M. (1943). Psychic Problems of the Blind: Dorothy Burlingham. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 43–85.. Psychoanal Q., 12:303-304.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Psychic Problems of the Blind: Dorothy Burlingham. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 43–85.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:303-304

Psychic Problems of the Blind: Dorothy Burlingham. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 43–85.

Marjorie Leonard

In this interesting paper the author describes the results of observations made at the Israelitisches Blinden Institut in Vienna. Two of the children who were under the care of the Institute were brought to Dorothy Burlingham for psychoanalysis. Jacob, who was eight years old, came because of inhibitions in his school work, depression and a number of neurotic fears. Sylvia, four years old, was quite normal except for her blindness, and came only for analytic observation so that her development might be compared with that of a seeing child of the same age.

On the whole, Burlingham found relatively little difference in the emotional and sexual development of the blind children and that of normal children.

Fears of the blind children are identical with those of normal children, although there is greater emphasis by the blind on the fear of loss of love and of being alone. This seems to be due to their actual constant dependence upon other persons. The two most important factors in molding their personality

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are the fear of being left without help, and, since they have no way of judging the extent of any damage they might do, the fear of the consequences of their own aggression. They have a special need to repress aggression and to seek the friendship and love of those in their environment. Thus they develop the contented, cheerful disposition which is so typical of the blind person.

The education of the blind children does not appear to have been sufficiently adapted to their special needs. Rather, it was modelled as closely as possible upon the lines followed in the education of normal children. Other senses of perception were not adequately developed so that the blind children tried to gain a picture of the world through the eyes of those around them. Often they would respond emotionally like 'a person who hears a joke and laughs with the others although he does not understand it'. If asked to describe an experience they had had, their attempts to do so did not reflect what they themselves had been able to perceive, but they would repeat in parrotlike fashion descriptions they had heard from others, giving an impression of vagueness and insincerity. Because of this dependence upon the eyes of others, the psychic life of the blind is built upon misconceptions and misinterpretations. They are also handicapped in their adaptation to reality because it is so much easier for them to remain in a world of fantasy.

Insufficient development of other senses of perception emphasizes their desire to see and to better comprehend what the power of sight actually accomplishes. They know that the power of sight is an ability which others possess and which enables other persons to do things which they cannot. Both children observed by Burlingham went through a stage of trying to deny the reality of their blindness and insisting that they could see. At other times, they attempted to draw the analyst into their world demanding that she close her eyes and not look.

Considering the limitation of her contact with the blind, Burlingham's summarizing statements seem very broad. She concludes that insufficient substitution is offered the blind for those pleasures which are ordinarily gained through various sublimations of scoptophilia. In addition to music, other interests could be developed which have nothing to do with the imitation of seeing people. There should be more emphasis on training other senses, as in manual work. The blind should be encouraged to express themselves more through writing, and science could be taught in a more practical and concrete fashion. 'Adaptation will take longer in this manner but to make up for that it will be unaccompanied by the elements of vagueness and insincerity which are the unavoidable results of our present day education of the blind.'

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Article Citation

Leonard, M. (1943). Psychic Problems of the Blind. Psychoanal. Q., 12:303-304

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