by William Deyesso
The life of Helen Keller, full of accomplishments and the defeat of obstacles, remains one of the most inspirational stories in history. Helen Keller, who was born into a well-to-do family, came into life with her hearing and sight intact. A mysterious illness, however, compromised those senses, and Keller was left unable to see the world around her or hear its sounds. At the time, Keller’s parents understood only that their daughter was ill with a debilitating fever; it was only later that they realized there had been any lasting damage.
Left blind and deaf, Helen Keller possessed no real way of communicating with the outside world. Too young at the time of her illness to have mastered her native tongue, Keller’s short-lived memory of words to describe her surroundings deserted her. In desperation, Keller’s parents contacted Alexander Graham Bell, who at the time was one of the nation’s premier experts in the education of deaf children. Bell, who invented the telephone, advised Keller’s parents to employ a teacher from the Perkins School for the Blind. In hiring a teacher from that school, Keller’s parents hoped that she would be more able to respond to someone who had experienced problems similar to her own.
Anne Sullivan accepted the position as Helen Keller’s teacher and almost immediately convinced Keller’s parents to allow her to take Keller from their own large home to a small cottage on their property. At the time, Sullivan was concerned that Keller used terrible table manners and was extremely spoiled. After living with Keller for a short time in isolation, Sullivan taught her the meanings of words such as “water,” “pump,” and “teacher.”
Documented in “The Miracle Worker,” Helen Keller’s story provides inspiration for those who would teach, as well as those who would be taught. Without the strenuous but loving efforts of Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller might never have achieved the heights that have marked her as a muse for those struggling to overcome enormous impediments.
by Bill Deyesso
An average of one in every 1,000 children born in the United States receives a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders before they are three years old. Autism is a class of neural development disorders that result in impaired communication skills, poor social interaction, and routine or repetitive behaviors. Diagnosis falls along a spectrum of functionality and symptoms, ranging from classic autism to Asperger syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism.
First diagnosed in the 1940s, a very few advances have been made in autism research in nearly 60 years. Scientists don’t know what causes autism, although they have been able to identify as many as 10 different genes associated with the disorder. There is no treatment for autism, although various therapies may help increase individual abilities and life skills. For this reason, the need for ongoing research remains necessary. I contribute to Autism Research at Children’s Hospital Boston, which oversees multiple autism research studies, including the Infant Sibling Project. This hospital aims to identify genetic markers for autism spectrum disorders, as well as phenotyping and genetics, seeking early identification of autism spectrum disorders in order to improve treatment and outcomes, in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Children’s Hospital Boston. To learn more, visit http://www.childrenshospital.org/
by Bill Deyesso
One of my all-time favorite books is James Baldwin’s groundbreaking novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain. The semi-autobiographical book is set in Baldwin’s home neighborhood of Harlem, New York. At the core of the book is a search for self-identity, under the strict supervision of a religious step-father. The book details a young man’s conflicted views of religion, reacting on one hand against moral duplicity and repression, and on the other finding in the Bible a source of solace and inspiration. The story about the writing of Baldwin’s first novel is interesting, as well. Baldwin turned to writing seriously in 1942, at the age of 18. Living in Greenwich Village, Baldwin worked full time on the original draft of Go Tell It On The Mountain. Richard Wright, well known for his autobiographical novel Native Son, read Baldwin’s manuscript in 1944, enjoying it enough to recommend it for a grant. Although Baldwin actually received that grant, his finished manuscript was denied publication. Baldwin moved to France in 1948, spending the next several years gaining a reputation as an essayist and critic, and intermittently revising his novel. Finally published in 1952, Go Tell It On The Mountain was followed two years later by Baldwin’s classic collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. Among the aspects that draw me to Go Tell It On The Mountain are its complete sense of honesty and its rich evocation of themes found in the Bible. The novel has gained increased critical prominence in recent years, with Time magazine selecting it as one of the 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005. I recommend this book to anyone who wants an entertaining and thought-provoking read in a style evocative of mid-20th century New York.