When Helen was nearly two years old, she became seriously ill. For the first nineteen months of her life, Helen had been a very healthy child. But early in January of 1882, she was suddenly struck down by a mystery illness—probably rubella or scarlet fever. Although Helen's fever soon broke, it became clear to her family that there was something seriously wrong with her sight and hearing. Mrs. Keller noticed that her daughter showed no reaction when the dinner bell was rung or a hand was waved in front of her face. It was obvious that Helen was now completely deaf and blind.
Helen's parents didn't know how to handle their daughter's condition. Trapped in a world of silence and darkness, she became wild and unruly, throwing tantrums as she became more and more frustrated at her inability to communicate. The common fate of children like Helen in those days was to be sent to a psychiatric institution. Thankfully, however, Helen's family discovered Annie Sullivan, a gifted young educator who would change Helen's life for the better and allow her famous pupil to establish a connection with the world around her.