The Brain is Invisible, so how do we recognize the cause of socially unacceptable behavior — health conditions or character flaws?
The Miracle Worker tells the story of Anne Sullivan, a nineteenth century teacher who would not accept parents’ lack of understanding the needs of their daughter, Helen Keller. Helen had been deaf, mute, and blind from infancy, was not fully able to communicate her needs, nor to understand how to interact with her family and the world around her. In 1887, when Helen was seven years old, Anne Sullivan, age 20, was hired as a live-in teacher to provide Helen with education and social skills. Anne was a recent graduate from the Perkins School for the Blind. No one expected progress, Helen’s parents simply reached a point where they could not cope with her erratic behavior. Everyone was at a loss due to their limited ability to communicate social norms to Helen.
Anne created a routine of daily tasks for Helen, hoping to spark mutual understanding. Anyone who has seen the movie The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan, and Patty Duke as Helen Keller, surely remembers the scene at the water pump. Anne is repeatedly using American Sign Language to spell w-a-t-e-r into Helen’s palm while pumping water from the family’s well. Suddenly, Helen gets it! She fully understands the pump, the pump handle moving, and the water coming out to the spout. She fully understands that the sign language gestures Anne is showing to her are communications. Helen takes Anne’s hand, and spells w-a-t-e-r back to her. Helen is instantly c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d to this person who simply seconds before was someone pushing her around and making her do stuff. From chaos and frustration comes a plan. With patience and perseverance comes success. From darkness, the light of understanding.
We find this barrier-crossing true story so compelling that we have told and retold it for over a century.
A lot of the stories from history that involve health care, or lack of care, are pretty dismal. They tend to be stories of the general public just throwing up their hands, not knowing what to do, and letting the state take over, or the church, or somebody to please take it off my hands. They are often about the devastating results for the patient. In fairness, care giving is exhausting in the best of circumstances. When you have no possible path to communicating with a person who has a physical condition, developmental disability or a mental illness, going it…