Helen Keller's first full sentence of spoken language: "I am not dumb now!" That's powerful stuff.
Helen Keller, 1880-1968, was an American author, a political activist, and a lecturer who spoke out regularly in support of women gaining the right to vote, the rights of workers and other progressive ideas. As the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, it's not surprising that she also fought for the rights of people with disabilities. Keller lost her sight and hearing through illness at 19 months old and spent much of her early childhood unable to communicate with any clarity at all to those around her, including her parents. As a young child, I read her auto-biography and watched the play/film, "The Miracle Worker," more than half a dozen times. Then, when my eldest daughter was small, I remember introducing her to the amazing story of Helen Keller and her brilliantly dedicated teacher, Anne Sullivan. I have always admired the courage, intelligence and spirit of both women.
As a mother with 3 toddlers who are all speech delayed, one might imagine this story would be inspiring me almost daily during our struggles with delayed milestones. That thought would be wrong, unfortunately. I have spent the last year in battle of these delays and facing discouragement often - that and always some large doses of guilt, worry and frustration. Sure, we've had plenty of success in the past year too, but our girls are still behind their age group, so the focus of helping them catch up remains at the forefront. Never once did the story of Helen Keller ever cross my mind.
That is, until today when a friend posted this YouTube video of a 1930's news story with Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, on her Facebook page. Suddenly, it was as if I was reading the autobiography all over again. My friend, whose daughter faces an autism diagnosis, said she was so very grateful for all special education teachers and particularly Anne Sullivan, probably the most brilliant special ed teacher of all time. With our daughters heading back into their school year regimen of early intervention to help with the delays, the timing was perfect for me to see this video. I really needed this new perspective. It's so easy to get caught up in the "my kids are behind or my kids aren't like other kids" angst. Well, hey, wait a minute! Helen Keller was more than significantly delayed in milestones - she couldn't communicate with anyone, even her closest family for YEARS. Even Anne Sullivan suffered from her own disabilities.
Neither Helen Keller nor Anne Sullivan allowed their disabilities, their "delayed milestones," if you want to put it that way, to stop them from being strong, compassionate, and hard-working women who made a difference in their world. I have three speech-delayed toddlers - and two who also struggle with other delays. Yes, that's the fact today. Today I also realize another fact, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan refused to quit and they did great things. Helen Keller died before I was born, so I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to know such a brave and determined woman. Today, I choose to be inspired by Helen and Anne and to use that inspiration to help me teach my daughters. Tomorrow, I expect them to be strong and compassionate women.