Before every ‘Miracle Worker,’ there’s a family who believes their child can learn

The story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller showed that education matters and is possible for everyone, including for children with CVI.

A visually impaired girl standing on a small, stationary trampoline.

As the mother of a daughter with Cerebral Visual Impairment/Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), I would like to take this opportunity to provide my fellow parents with a spin on a very familiar story.

We all know the story of “The Miracle Worker,” one of the most inspiring stories in American history. Anne Sullivan was dubbed “The Miracle Worker” by Mark Twain after he heard of her success teaching a young deafblind girl named Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker became the title of a play and a movie depicting Anne and Helen’s early days together.

It is a story of hope and the importance of education. It is a story of triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds.

And, as with every great story, there is more to it.

Before the story of the Miracle Worker could happen, there had to be parents who believed in miracles.

The Kellers had to find their “Miracle Worker.” They had to believe that a teacher could be found for their daughter, who was left blind and deaf after surviving meningitis at the age of 19 months. For more than five years, the Kellers wrote letters to schools and doctors across the country. They traveled for days at a time from Alabama to see doctors in the Northeast. The Kellers were told by medical experts that what they hoped for, that she could be educated, could not be done for their daughter.

As Helen grew more isolated, her behavior became more difficult to manage. Family members encouraged the Kellers to put Helen in an institution. The Kellers continued to hold out hope.

Five years passed before Anne Sullivan made the trek from Perkins to meet her first student. Anne, a gifted and tenacious teacher, used observation and trial and error to discover the way Helen could learn. And, learn she did.

That Helen Keller did not languish in isolation and ignorance is her parents’ triumph, who believed that a “miracle” (educating Helen) was possible.

Helen herself once wrote, “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars … or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”  She could have been referring to her parents, whose determination found the special teacher who unlocked Helen’s fierce intellect and compassion.

As a parent of a child with CVI, I am grateful to the Kellers for their determination. Today’s parents are better equipped to fight for education and inclusion because of the Kellers’ efforts and the efforts of countless parents since then. Children with CVI have unique learning needs. Their visual impairment (often combined with other diagnoses) keeps them from accessing the world quickly and efficiently. Each child with CVI needs to be observed, appropriately assessed, and taught in the way she can learn. Because every child can learn, and every child matters.  

It’s that simple. Parents of children with CVI across the country want what every parent wants, that their children are taught in the manner in which they can learn.

We are asking educators to get the information they need to teach our children. We are asking them to believe in our children. We are asking them to help us reach them.

Becoming proficient in teaching a child with CVI is not an easy task. We know that. We live it. We are so grateful to work with the educators and professionals who answer the call.

Like the Kellers, we are holding out hope. Thankfully, in modern times, education is not a miracle. 

In America, education — appropriate, accessible education — is a right for every child.

The miracles are the children themselves. What we do for them will be the best thing we ever do.

“They don’t need miracles. They need time, patience, and to be taught in the manner in which they can learn.”  — Dr. Julie Durando, Deafblind Project in Virginia

Rebecca Davis is the mother of two wonderful girls. Her youngest daughter, Eliza, a tenacious and loving 14-year-old, loves to swim, dance and give hugs. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) in Indiana. More recently, Rebecca is a board member of the Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society and a student in the TVI program at University of Massachusetts, Boston.

What’s your CVI story? We’d like to hear it. Join our private CVINow Facebook Group for parents and families, and share.


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