May of each year is designated as Better Speech & Hearing Month, and Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists around the world typically increase their efforts to raise awareness about our professions during that month. The above video clip of Helen Keller and “Teacher” Anne Sullivan (Courtesy of YouTube) saw increased Internet traffic during the month of May this year. Their story has touched countless lives over the last century, and I admire them both greatly! I was profoundly moved when I read Helen’s biography at age 9. It inspires me still and helped lead me to the work I love so well.
Anne Sullivan’s story is no less inspiring than Helen’s! She was a pioneer Speech-Language Pathologist when the field was young and evolving. Research was sparse, and it would take the years leading up to the dawn of a new millennium to introduce evidence-based practice as a hot topic. There was little guidance available for treating the profound results of Helen’s childhood illness. Anne’s techniques were considered “unconventional” and “outside the box” in her era, but she trusted her clinical judgment and persevered in the face of often daunting criticism — all while battling her own declining vision and the tragedies of her personal history.
Reading Helen Keller’s biography has inspired me personally since I was a child, but Anne Sullivan’s work inspires me as a therapist to this day. She demonstrated remarkable fortitude and strength of conviction, trusting her own clinical judgment when critics were tirelessly determined to convince her that she could not succeed. What a victory this video represents! I am fortunate to live and practice in an age that affords me quick and relatively easy access to research by well-regarded experts in the field. At the same time, I am ever mindful of the fact that we still don’t have all the answers. SLPs and Audiologists must stay abreast of research findings, yet it is also important that we allow experience, clinical judgment, and the goals and perceptions of our clients to inform our work.
I salute Helen Keller, her indomitable spirit, and all she accomplished in her lifetime. It is sobering to think that the world would have been denied access to her innermost thoughts but for the inspirational work of her Teacher, mentor, and beloved friend, Anne Sullivan. May their story continue to inspire us all for many generations to come.
Cynthia Williams Bowen, MS, CCC-SLP owns Bowen Speech-Language Therapy, LLC in Clearwater, FL. Cyndee provides quality, creative, collaborative treatment to adults and adolescents with communication, swallowing, Parkinson’s, and related disorders.