E. Kraepelin's classification

E. Kraepelin gave a classification of oligophrenia based on the possibilities of teaching children.

The merit of Kraepelin is that he united
all the clinical symptoms of congenital and early dementia of children known by that time into one group called
oligophrenia, and the terms – “idiot”, “imbecile”, “moron” – used to determine the severity of the defeat of intellectual activity.

Thus, oligophrenic children (in the degree of debility) were capable of learning, but in special schools (according to a light program). Imbecile children are incapable of learning, but some of them in special classes were able to master the initial literacy. At the same time, they were able to master simple labor processes. Oligophrenic children in the degree of idiocy for work and learning are generally incapable. In relation to them, a number of medical and educational measures are carried out in special boarding schools.



The most severe degree of oligophrenia is idiocy (from the Greek word “idios”, which means one’s own, existing for oneself, or, in other words, existing without communication with others).

Idiots include children with gross underdevelopment of the brain and a deep decline in all mental activity. In such children, anomalies in the development of the psyche are accompanied by profound disorders of the sensory and motor functional systems. They have sharply reduced reactions to various external stimuli (light, sound, taste, sometimes even pain, etc.). Some have an increased food reflex

Not distinguishing taste, they often pull into their mouths everything that falls into their hands (earth, pieces of lime, rags, their own feces).

Some idiot children are characterized by immobility (sitting or lying in beds); sometimes they have monotonous, obsessive movements. Others are more restless: they repeat the same stereotypical movements or actions for a long time (swinging their head or the whole body, fingering fingers or objects that fall into their hands, opening or closing a door). These babies crawl or run; both are interrupted by sudden stops. All these movements and actions are automated, aimless and chaotic. Some idiot children respond to stimuli coming from the external environment, but their responses are primitive, monotonous. Sometimes responses are inadequate and belated.

Speech in idiot children is often absent. Such children spontaneously emit only individual sounds. They do not understand well the speech addressed to them and more often react to intonation. Their behavior depends on the state of organic needs: they are calm when they are full, they are warm and dry, and they show anxiety when they are in unfavorable conditions. (Some idiot children have impulsive outbursts of anger, anger, which is expressed in violent motor excitement, screaming, aggressive actions towards themselves or others (scratching, biting, etc.).

In milder cases of idiocy, there is a relatively large dynamic in development. Children react more vividly to environmental stimuli. They form static functions, speech begins to develop (pronounce separate words). Studies have shown that systematic speech development sessions with these children have been successful: some of them have increased vocabulary, an understanding of short phrases has arisen.

Individual idiot children develop a sense of attachment to their caregivers. However, this attachment is unstable and easily disappears if the child is not associated with the person caring for him for some period. Music has a calming effect on most children. In the process of long and hard educational work, children acquire some skills of self-service and neatness.


The average degree of oligophrenia is imbecility (from Latin im – without, bacillum – stick, that is, it cannot do without a “stick”, without support, without outside help and guidance). In comparison with idiots, imbeciles have more pronounced signs of conscious mental activity. Their reactions to various environmental influences are more lively and diverse. They can note elements of self-awareness – they know and call

their first name, last name, some children know their age. Often imbeciles give the names of relatives correctly.

Some generalizations are also available to imbeciles. They can establish some signs of difference between objects (within the limits of a particular perception), within certain limits a practical synthesis is available to them. So, for example, they can fold a cut picture. In most cases, this is given after special training, multiple demonstrations. The attention of most imbeciles is unstable: they are easily distracted and quickly exhausted, especially during classes related to literacy. Memory is weakened. Only a few of them master elementary literacy and ordinal counting.

The logical processes of most imbeciles are at a very low level. Reading can be reproduced only with the help of questions. The knowledge acquired in the classroom quickly disintegrates, is forgotten; what is remembered is reproduced as a memorized stamp.

Imbeciles are characterized by inertia, stiffness of thought processes, weakness of abstraction. Having started any activity, they cannot tear themselves away from it. Familiar, already developed actions are performed by them automatically, always of the same type. They prefer to do what comes easily and quickly to them. Negativism often manifests itself during class, especially when the teacher offers a new task. Some children immediately say “I don’t know,” “I can’t,” or remain silent, laugh, and grimace. Negativism arises in connection with emotional states. Children are inert – they treat everything new with caution, negatively. Professor G. L. Troshin called them “slaves of habits.”

The work notes a pattern, a stereotype. The slightest change in the situation disrupts the usual, automated action. Some children willingly, for a long time and with interest work in the workshop. It is very important to remember that adults should constantly monitor the progress of children’s work and come to their aid in time. Otherwise, children can make mistakes and allow marriage in work. So, for example, one of the girls, while sewing, sewed a sleeve to the hem of her dress. This suggests that she did not understand the place of the part in the system of the whole.

Speech is usually delayed in its development. The first words appear at 3-5 years, sometimes a little earlier. Vocabulary is usually small. However, it can be enriched, especially when carrying out speech therapy work. The dictionary usually consists of everyday, everyday, frequently repeated words. There are many agrammatisms in speech – coordination, control are violated, endings are omitted. The sound pronunciation in the overwhelming majority of cases is disturbed: there are substitutions, permutations of sounds. The speech of many children is unclear and slurred. The everyday speech addressed to them is understood quite well and they react to it correctly. They react especially vividly to facial expressions, intonation and gestures of others.

The emotional-volitional sphere of imbeciles is richer than that of idiots. Their attitude towards people and reaction to the environment are more differentiated. So, for example, children relate to some people with a feeling of sympathy, to others – negatively, to others – they show complete indifference. Some children retain sympathy for relatives and friends (children remember them, ask, miss them). Positive feelings for other children are often expressed in the fact that they take care of the little ones, help them get dressed, take them by the hand when they walk or go to another room (to the dining room, hall, etc.). In some imbecile children, traits of egocentrism can be seen. So, for example, they may demand increased attention towards themselves and are jealous of the praise that is addressed to their friend. .

Among imbeciles there are children with other personality traits: such children sometimes offend the small, weak, take away their toys and things. They like to command them, to give various orders. Sometimes, against the background of a calm, characteristic state of a child, affects or longer states of excitement may suddenly arise. – Some children are vengeful. Sometimes they respond to insult after a while.

Imbecile children are incapable of schooling. But they master elementary labor skills. These children willingly perform cleaning tasks, diligently work in workshops, love to wash, wash, etc. Imbeciles are especially willing to perform agricultural work. They love to take care of animals, work in the garden, orchard.

However, acquired skills and knowledge are fragile and require constant reinforcement. In the process of work, the teacher must monitor the correctness of the assignment.

In cases of milder brain damage, when there is reason to assume a borderline state (i.e., imbecile on the verge of debility), children have a good mechanical memory and a fairly pronounced active attention.

This creates more favorable conditions for mastering literacy and more complex labor skills.


A mild degree of oligophrenia is denoted by the term “debility” (which in Latin means weakness, frailty).

Mental inferiority manifests itself in morons relatively later, more often at the beginning of schooling. Their intelligence is more preserved. Therefore, in the process of development, they give more advancement than imbeciles. Moron children are able to study in special auxiliary schools.

In the process of learning, morons increase the stock of ideas, knowledge, skills and abilities. The active vocabulary increases, phrasal speech develops.

Morons are to some extent characterized by individual characteristics of temperament, character and emotional reactions. They also have relatively greater opportunities for mastering certain types of labor activity. Since a number of children with the phenomena of debility do not have noticeable deviations from the side of physical status, they may at first glance seem like ordinary, normal children. Such an impression remains, for example, with defectology students who have visited an auxiliary school for the first time. However, this impression is deceptive. The essence of debility lies in the inferiority of cognitive activity. The ability to analyze, logical generalization, abstraction, that is, those mental functions that form the basis of intellect, suffer especially. The weakening of these abilities, caused by a previous brain disease, does not allow the group of children under study to master the program of mass school.

Already in the anamnesis of such children, one can notice an indication that they are lagging behind in development from normal peers. This is especially true for the formation of neuropsychic functions. So, children later react to environmental stimuli (sound, light, etc.), motor functions develop with a delay (later they begin to hold their heads, sit, stand, walk, play with toys, etc.). The lag in the development of speech function is especially characteristic. This is expressed, in particular, in the slow accumulation of vocabulary. Examination sometimes reveals that the passive vocabulary significantly predominates over the active one. Often these children have impaired and difficult to correct sound pronunciation. In many cases, agrammatisms (omission and distortion of endings) are retained for a long time.

However, the deviation in development becomes more noticeable at preschool age. Here, a number of features characteristic of oligophrenic children come to light more noticeably. They do not show sufficient interest in the environment, do not strive for independence for a long time, are not actively involved in mastering skills, are negative and get lost in a new environment. Their play activities are monotonous. The children show no interest in the game. There is no search for new game options. During the game, they are easily distracted.

Can oligophrenic children, and especially those with a pronounced degree of mental retardation, acquire solid knowledge and work skills? In the past, before Seguin’s work, some educators and physicians answered this question in the negative. The possibilities of such children were sharply underestimated even later. So, for example, one of the major German psychiatrists, E. Kraepelin, argued that from mentally handicapped children, antisocial elements are subsequently formed: thieves, parasites, prostitutes. It was believed that the task of the state was to keep such children in special institutions located outside the city.

However, the experience of working with such people, accumulated by progressive figures in the field of pedagogy and medicine, has shown that even severely retarded children, with appropriate medical and educational measures, are capable of some development. The rest of the mentally handicapped children with a less pronounced intellectual defect are capable of learning, acquiring work skills, and later on, participating in socially useful activities. What is the basis for such development? The human brain has great plasticity, the ability to compensate, that is, to overcome developmental defects. With the loss or weakening of some functional systems of the cerebral cortex, their function is performed by other systems. Apparently, the formation of new neural connections is also possible. All this leads to the correction of the general and special neurodynamics of the brain, and hence to the improvement of the mental activity of the oligophrenic child. The degree of primary preservation of the brain also matters. However, in order to carry out such an educational and pedagogical process, during which the correction of the neuropsychic development of such children could be carried out, the teacher must have special knowledge and skills. A special science, oligophrenopedagogy, is engaged in the development of a special system of pedagogical measures.

The given clinical and pedagogical characteristics are of a generalized nature. Among the weak-minded, there are sometimes children with some individual characteristics that are of interest in the psychological and pedagogical plan. So, for example, among imbeciles there are children with a well-developed mechanical memory. They can read by heart long verses, passages, without comprehending their content. This may also include “phenomenal” counters capable of performing elementary arithmetic operations, operating with large numbers. There are imbeciles with pronounced artistic and musical abilities. The question of the nature of these rare phenomena does not seem quite clear. It is possible that there is a peculiarity in the development of nerve elements in individual local areas of the brain that are directly related to the performance of these functions.

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