Thursday, June 30, 2011

Memories of a book

When I was in elementary school, I read all the time.  It was actually a problem---a book hidden in a desk was a nice diversion from math.  One of my most very favorite books seemed to be a foreshadowing of what I was to become professionally (which if you don't know me, I started in deaf education, and then later became a speech-language pathologist.)    I loved Helen Keller's Teacher!  All of us know about Helen Keller---a little girl becomes blind and deaf by an illness at age 19 months in the late 1800s.  Her private teacher was perhaps as interesting as Helen---Anne Sullivan, who grew up in an orphanage, had severe vision difficulties due to infections, attended the Perkins School for the Blind, and was hired by the Kellers to teach and care for Helen, who by that time, was nonverbal and extremely difficult to handle. You'll have to read more about her yourself if you are interested; but the result of wonderful teaching was that Helen Keller went on to be the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, and was an accomplished author and activist. 

    With my background, I know now that one huge factor in her success was the fact that Helen was not prelingually deaf.  Most of the children I've worked with who are hearing impaired were born that way, and as a result, do not have the language input they needed to set a strong foundation for verbal communication without intensive help.  Even with intervention, children who are born profoundly deaf have difficulty keeping up with language demands in school needed for literacy.  By age 19 months, kids generally are talking and interacting, they understand simple stories and directions, and know that words have meaning.  Losing hearing at that relatively older age gives a language advantage over prelingually deaf children.  Helen Keller was also obviously very intelligent, and had the benefit of an intelligent, intuitive one-on-one teacher much of her life.  My interest in her was renewed when I found a YouTube video from 1930 with Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.  Ms. Sullivan demonstrated techniques for communicating and eliciting speech from Helen.  It was fascinating and enlightening! She was a speech pathologist before there were speech pathologists!

If you don't want to read about Helen and Annie, watch "The Miracle Worker" with Patty Duke.  It's a classic! I just put it on my Netflix cue again. 

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