Sunday, July 7, 2013

Concept Building and The Coolest Book on Helen Keller Out There

Cover (two shots in InstaPicFrame).
I think the coolest book of all on Helen Adams Keller that I have read was borrowed from the local Austin Public Library branch (Oak Hill Branch to you Austinites). Think cartoons, think graphic novel: Center for Cartoon Studies Presents, "Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller", by Joseph Lambert.  Disney-Hyperion Books, New York, 2012.  

This is in a fun illustrated comic book format covering Helen from around the time of Anne's arrival in Alabama to their departure from Perkins School for the Blind.  I love how Lambert, supported by the cinematic experience of comics, cut in and out between Helen's progress and Annie's memories of her own childhood.  

My favorite thing to note is how the illustrator portrayed visually, perhaps toward the abstract, how Helen must have perceived her experiences before and during language development. His illustrated interpretation of Helen's perspective of her environment was surprising and fascinating to me.

Here, Helen learns that the object is "D-O-L-L".
For Helen and any other Deafblind child, their world is only as big as they can touch it. Especially in the beginning of life until memories and experiences build up. For example, if a totally Deafblind child stands up, hands to herself... there is nothing out there. If she is not touching it, it does not exist. I love how the empty world around faceless Helen is shown with the doll popping up into existence only to disappear and a new pair of hands touch her to spell D-O-L-L into her hands.

"The idea always precedes the word."
Helen is illustrated as connecting a small rock with the word,
"small rock". (InstaPicFrame)
As a mother of a nearly 3 year-old Deafblind child I've heard this concept before: "The idea always precedes the word." One could flap all the ASL and fingerspelling at first but if he has never experienced the experience nor touched the object, the language provided to him means nothing. He may recognize we're talking but nothing makes sense.  My husband and I being fluent in ASL does not mean the battle is half-won or that the "Deaf part" is taken care of by us. Deafblindness is more than the sum of two parts. Sign language is a vital part but only made small in proportion to many strategies, options and things we need to be mindful of! Anyway, off my soapbox I go.

The other big avenue of concept-building I know of is Routines. That's where you can sign/provide object cues consistently he may soon connect a part or all of the routine to what is being signed into his hand/on his body and/or object he found in the "now" box/presented to him. For example, I alway sign "eat" on his mouth before he eats and most of the time I give him a spoon, his object symbol for "eat". (Hello, what about routines, Mom?! Spoon ALL the time.) And then his activity is eating, his FAVORITE! With children like my son our mantra has to be "Concept Before Words"!

Fabulous job, Joseph Lambert! Naturally, I ordered a copy of this delightful book from for us to read and treasure.

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