Their lives are sobering inspirations to the rest of us. Their stories are eloquent testimonies of uncommon courage, hope and optimism in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. Helen Keller was born normal but she became visually and hearing impaired at the tender age of just 19 months old due to a childhood illness (possibly Rubella or scarlet fever). Ordinarily, most people would probably consider the resultant isolation of this young girl from the external world and perceive her as having virtually no chance of achieving anything worthwhile in life. Imagine not being able to hear spoken words at all, see the written version or even visualize sign language. Indeed the trauma was a serious isolation for young Helen Keller in her early years.
Yet this was a woman who despite her overwhelming odds grew up to achieve more than many supposedly normal people did in their lifetimes. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from the university at the age of 24. Afterwards she devoted her life to helping the cause of visually and hearing impaired people. She travelled around the world on humanitarian activism while also authoring many renowned books on human rights advocacy. This Helen Adams Keller actually got to meet every president of the United States from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson in her quest to help the plights of people with visual and auditory disabilities. The story of Helen Keller could indeed be described as a miracle.
The curious question is how did this lady manage to achieve the above feats despite her overwhelming circumstances? The courageous people in her life as well as her own personal determination to be a functional individual made the difference in terms of her place in history today. Her parents’ strong resolve, her personal motivation as well as the uncommon caliber of devotion from her personal tutor/companion (Anne Sullivan) combined together towards optimizing her innate potentials eventually developing her into a person of value to society. Since young Helen could neither hear spoken words nor read them, her personal tutor, Anne Sullivan, creatively helped to develop this young lady’s vocabulary by giving her items and then spelling the names of such objects into the palm of Helen’s hand, starting with simple items such as water, mugs and dolls. It was a slow process but with a rare genre of dedication, patience and love from Anne Sullivan, Helen’s neural system adapted for needed cognition albeit in an unconventional trajectory. Against this background, Helen Keller eventually learnt to ‘read’ and write. At age 20, she entered Radcliffe College with Anne Sullivan by her side as companion to spell textbooks (letter by letter) into her hands. An innately intelligent student, Helen Keller graduated 4 years after with a Bachelor’s degree magna cum laude.
In retrospect if ever there is a unique definition of ‘difference-maker’, Anne Sullivan was certainly one in the life of Helen Keller. Her nurturing efforts and peculiar devotion made it possible for Helen’s enormous but latent potential to be developed into achievements society celebrates in history. Soberly, unlike Helen Keller there are many unsung and unknown Nigerian special-needs children with untapped but wonderful potentials idling away beneath. They need nurturers and care-givers who will dare to look beyond the seeming ordinariness of a meadow and care enough to discover the hidden gems within. Cobhams Asuquo is a well-acclaimed Nigerian musician, song-writer and producer who is internationally sought after for his musical genius. He was born with a visual impairment but his difference-making mother was determined that her son would grow into an independent and functional person who will add value to society. Cobhams emotionally recalls how his mother always said to him,’’ I know you will become someone great in life’’. This was affirmation. This was courage.
While conceding that not all special-needs individuals will necessarily grow up to become a Helen Keller or Cobhams Asuquo, the message to society at large is to find some perspectives and endeavour to make positive impacts in the lives of people with disabilities. This genre of people need sincere love, regular affirmations and societal integration in order to thrive optimally and add value as best as they possibly can. Change is needed. The Children’s Developmental Centre (CDC) is a driver of such changes through its early interventions and young adults developmental programmes that are designed in with multi-pronged approach to harness and optimize the potentials of special-needs persons. Our driving motivation is to help maximize personal independence, functionality and increase their innate potentials towards adding value. This is a noble vision that calls for the support of all.
-Lanre Fashina (Media Support Officer at CDC)