By: Coy McQueen (02/26/17)
Laura Bridgman was born in 1829 in Hanover, New Hampshire and is famous for being the first deaf-blind child to get a formal education in America. In addition, Charles Dickens wrote about her achievement in American Notes and she was connected to Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher. Bridgman contracted scarlet fever at the age of two that leaf her deaf and blind.
I picked Bridgman because she reminded me of our son, Sean. Sean is a 24-year-old male who was born in Zimbabwe. Sean was diagnosed with autism at an early age and is non-verbal. However, there was little or no help for him in Zimbabwe. Plus, the doctors told his mother he would never be able to be educated. Hence, no one tried.
After, marring Sean’s mother in 2015, Sean was granted a Humanitarian Parole to come to the United States to be with his parents. As part of the requirements for this class of visa, Sean is required to get help for his autism. However, as a legal alien in the United State, he does not qualify for any government assistance. Therefore, he relies for a lot, of his education, at home.
Bridgman was sent to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston when she was eight years old. Here Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe did some experiments where he pasted words on different objects to see if Bridgman could learn from the raised letters to identify the objects. Using this method, Bridgman learned the alphabet and the 10 digits.
This is very similar in the way Sean’s new father went about trying to figure out how to see if Sean could learn sign language. Frist, we tried teaching Sean signs directly – using conventual methods. Then, like Howe we experimented and found Sean to be very visual, but he seemed to lack abstract thinking. He could not connect a picture of an object, to the object. So, we started out by teaching Sean to match objects on flash cards, then to the objects themselves. This was a breakthrough. Later, Sean was able to match letters, numbers, and colors. Next, we started matching ASL signs to the objects on flash cards and Sean learned quickly.
When Howe stared working with Bridgman, his progress was reported in journals in Europe that were read by many. This in turn lead to Charles Dickens visiting the Perkins Institute so that a greater population became informed of the possibilities for the deaf and the blind. In conclusion, I believe, like Bridgman, Sean has the ability to learn anything, given the opportunity, and some help as demonstrated by the hundreds of words he has learned to sign in the last 17 months.