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Deaf-Blind

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DEAF-BLIND, The. "Obstacles are things to be overcome is the motto given by Dr. Howe to the Perkins Institution for the Blind. When this remarkable man learned in 1837 that up in the mountains of New Hampshire there was a little girl not only blind but also deaf and dumb, he eagerly sought out the child and obtained the parents' consent to take her to South Boston to be educated. He had already formed a theory as to how he would reach a mind thus doubly shut in, and with the finding of Laura Bridgman came the wished-for oppor tunity to test this theory. It should be noted that Laura Bridgman saw and heard until she was twoyears old. She had been rather a deli cate child, however, having enjoyed only about four months of robust health, when she sick ened, her disease raging with great violence during five weeks, "when her eyes and ears were inflamed, suppurated and their contents were discharged?' Her sufferings continued for months, and it was not "until four years of age that the poor child's bodily health seemed re stored' She was intelligently active, following her mother about the house, seeming anxious to feel of everything, and thus to learn about it; and she developed signs for her father and her mother, and for some things.

She was eight years old when brought to the Perkins Institution. Dr. Howe writes: "There was one of two ways to be adopted: either to go on and build up a language of signs on the basis of the natural language, which she had already herself commenced, or to teach her the purely arbitrary language in common use; that is, to give her a sign for every individual thing, or to give her a knowledge of letters, by the combination of which she might express her idea of the existence, and the mode and condi tion of existence, of anything. The former would have been easy, but very ineffectual; the latter seemed very difficult, but, if accomplished, very effectual; I determined, therefore, to try the latter? After the child had become adjusted to the change of homes, Dr. Howe began teach ing her by means of common articles with which she was familiar — spoons, forks, keys, etc., on which labels with their names printed in raised letters had been pasted. Similar detached labels wereven her to feel. Her touch was acute hence she was able to match labels, placing that for book on the book, etc. She did this easily and willingly because she received approbation for so doing; but the idea that the printed word stood for the name of the object had not entered her brain. Then other detached labels were cut up intd their component letters. These her memory soon enabled. her to build into wholes or the words she had felt. Such exercises continued for many weeks to be only a meaningless play to the poor child. The suc cess had been °about as great as teaching a very knowing dog? when suddenly the idea flashed upon her that °Here was a way by which she herself could make up a sign for anything that was in her own mind, and show it to another mind, and at once her countenance lighted up with a human it was no longer a dog or parrot.— it was an immortal spirit,

eagerly seizing upon a new link of union with other spirits! I could almost fix upon the moment when this truth dawned upon her mind, and spread its light to her countenance; I saw that the great obstacle was overcome, and that henceforward nothing but patient and persever ing, plain and straightforward efforts were to be used) Next, she was given metal type each bearing some embossed letter, and a frame with holes to' receive them. With this 'appliance Laura readily wrote the name of any object she knew and by writing them fixed in mind an extensive vocabulary of common names. Then the less cumbrous manual alphabet was taught her. Here was a means by which she could both write and read; she could spell to her teacher and read what her teacher spelled her hand. Dr. Howe's reports teem with inter esting psychologic material. At the end of the year he writes: °She is nine years of age, and yet her knowledge of language is not greater than a common child of three years. There has been no difficulty in communicating knowledge of facts, positive qualities of bodies, numbers, etc.; but the words expressive of them, which other children learn by hearing, as they learn to talk, must all be communicated to Laura by a circuitous and tedious method. In all the knowledge which is acquired by the perceptive faculties, she is of course backward; because, previous to her coming here, her perceptive faculties were probably less exercised in one week than those of common children are in one hour? And so her instruction went on. Through it all the child showed an eagerness to learn and to put herself in touch with the world that was a powerful aid to the teacher. In a few years, when Oliver Caswell, also deaf, dumb and blind, came to the institution, Laura naturally took great interest in teaching- him, and thereby profited much herself. As she ap proached womanhood her education was already good. She had learned to sew, to knit, and to do fancy work. She often visited her home, but her true home was the institution; there she died in her 60th year, the first -case of any one so afflicted made capable of leading an industrious and happy life, and as the first case, historically the most remarkable. Popular in terest in Laura Bridgman, both in this coun try and abroad, was naturally very great. The printed reports of her progress which were eagerly awaited were as eagerly absorbed. Dis tinguished foreigners coming to Boston visited her. Charles Dickens wrote in his American notes a sympathetic account of his impressions of her. The way to give liberty to the impris oned mind had been made plain.

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