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Niilo Mäki 1902-1968

Niilo Mäki: a developer in neuropsychology and special pedagogy

Niilo Mäki is without a doubt one of the most prominent men in Jyväskylä and is known as a central figure in the development of neuropsychology and special pedagogy in our country. Mäki graduated from Tampere High School in 1921 and in the same year he enrolled into the University of Helsinki to study philosophy, psychology and medical sciences. He was the first psychology student of Eino Kaila. After Eino Kaila accepted a position in the University of Turku as a professor of philosophy, Niilo Mäki decided to continue his studies in Turku where he graduated with masters of philosophy in 1927. Additionally, he had studied the Finnish language, literature, Finnish history and economics. Later he accomplished studies on a PhD level in development, pedagogy, and sociology. During his studies he worked as a tutor in several schools and at the end of his studies he graduated as a teacher with exceptional grades from the Finnish Normal High School .

In 1926, Niilo Mäki left for Germany where he worked in Frankfurt am Main alongside two famous professors: Adhemár Gelb and Kurt Goldstein, in a research clinic specialized in brain lesions. He was there during the years 1926-28, -31, and -43. All together about 21 months. There he also studied psychology, psychopathology, and neurology and became very well acquainted with neuropsychological rehabilitation methods for war veterans suffering from brain lesions. In 1931, Niilo Mäki was also a lecturer at the Greifswald University where he taught Finnish.

Niilo Mäki also practiced his teaching in Finland . He taught at different levels and at different institutions. During the years 1923-1939 he taught in seven different schools in the cities of Tampere , Turku , Helsinki and Jyväskylä. He lectured at the academy of Orivesi from 1928-31. Later he taught at the national nursing academy, in the Finnish speech academy, at women's nursing schools, in the Children's hospital, and many other places.

Niilo Mäki was a lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä 's summer schools where he taught, for example, psychology. He remained pursuing the latter job for twelve consecutive summers from 1931-48. In the University of Helsinki , Niilo Mäki lectured psychology until the year 1962.

In 1932, Niilo Mäki accepted a scholarship offered by the Rockefeller Foundation and then worked in the department of psychology at Yale University . There he became acquainted with the Yale Clinic of Child Development led by professor Arnold Gesell. Niilo Mäki also became familiar with Child Guidance clinics where, especially, children with learning disabilities were researched and provided with rehabilitation. The latter was of great influence towards Niilo Mäki's later work in children's developmental disabilities. During his stay overseas, he built a major network of contacts internationally. He attended international congresses as a lecturer and as a representative of Finland . In 1948 Niilo Mäki taught at Oxford University . Additionally, he was a member in the board of directors of the World Federation of Mental Health in 1955-56. To Finland he brought fresh international influences in the realm of research.

In the 1930s, Niilo Mäki increased his significant role on a national level. He functioned as an expert in work groups, committees and organizations. In 1935 he was appointed as the first spokesperson for the graduate association of psychology and later he became the spokesperson for the Finnish association of psychology. Next to Eino Kaila, Niilo Mäki was considered as the second most prominent international representative of Finland . In 1936 he was appointed as head of the first faculty of psychology in the Jyväskylä College of developmental studies. He and Professor Eero Hillbom founded the hospital of brain injury and worked there, until his death, as a leader in psychology. He was also a director of the psychiatric ward, where he was in charge of 500 patients suffering from aphasia. Niilo Mäki's work with psychiatrist Aito Ahdo influenced the establishment of a children's institute of neuropsychiatry in Haukkala. The latter was the first institute for children that was not a hospital. Niilo Mäki also emphasized and developed special education for children with limited abilities. In 1931, he demanded for different instructions applicable for teaching left handed children and he paid enormous attention for the significance of remediation methods in schools for children with reading-, writing-, and speech disabilities. Niilo Mäki was our country's first choice of career advisor and he worked as a choice of career director at the guidance office for the city of Helsinki in the years 1939-45. He helped in evolving this area of operation for the committees of this branch in the 1940's. He also directed the developmental activities in the children's clinic, which specialized in upbringing children; he acted as the chairman for the government committee of the children's clinic.

It was clear that Niilo Mäki was ex officio to be named in 1948 for the conservation and improvement pedagogy's professorship, which was established in Finland as the first Scandinavian professorship. At first he performed official duties and in 1951 he became a permanent professor. A crucial position in his appointment was Professor Eino Kaila's creditable appraisal for Mäki's competence. In this professorship, which was later renamed special pedagogics and after that special pedagogy's professorship, Niilo Mäki worked at until his death in 1968. He worked as the university's vice principal for 18 years, until his death. In 1963 Niilo Mäki was named as the doctor honoris causa of the pedagogic faculty.

Niilo Mäki was a multifaceted person, who was extensively interested in culture and also studying it. He had adopted modern views of cultural anthropology and sociology. He had examined how the interactions of social and biological factors appear in an individual's behavionaral actions, their dysfunctions and personality. In the autumn of 1933, for example while he travelled to USA , he studied the school circumstances of the American Indians; he also studied the left handedness of the Indian artists in the state of New Mexico . In Finland he collected data on children's career wishes and their plans for the future. All while pondering about the society's influence on the juvenile's individual hopes. When Yrjö Kivimies organized the well known, Pidot Tornissa(discussion text, which originates from a party gathering at Tower hotel's cabinet to discuss Finnish culture and the Finnish national character) Niilo Mäki was there to analyze the essence of the national character. Instead of believing that biological heredity determines status, he truly believed that one could affect their personality by their upbringing, education and remediation.

A significant part of Mäki's life's work was his wide-range interest in the mentally impaired and children who suffered from various difficulties, as well as his ambition to improve these children's living conditions in various ways. He hadn't stuck to the academic world; on the contrary, he had forced the use of practical teaching and rehabilitation methods and the improvement for these methods. Because of his proficiency in speaking and writing and an active position in the society he was able to heavily influence the progress of things in the way that he wanted to. Also in his publishing activities he aimed at influencing the decision-makers, cultural impacts and his colleagues working in the same field. He usually directed his writings to a more extensive audience, rather than just the research community. His popular articles were published outside the more conservative academic publishers.