In The Story of my Life by Helen Keller, what methods did Anne Sullivan use to help Helen and why were these methods good?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although at times it must have seemed heartless, Ms. Sullivan used positive and negative reinforcement to get through to Helen. For example, when Helen threw temper tantrums at the table or simple refused to try to eat properly, she was denied food or even led away from the dining room. (This kind of conditioning corresponded to the experimentation of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849 - 1936) but precluded the behaviourist school of thought of B.F.Skinner (1904 –1990) ). Structuring Helen by imposing limits gave her a framework in which to learn, and it also made Helen aware that she had expectations to meet.

The first time Helen got the connection between a thing and its symbol was when Annie ran water over her hands and "spelled" the code for 'water' in the palm of her hands. This was the first big leap ahead in both communication and thinking in abstraction. From this point on, Helen was eager to learn and became a willing student. Ms Sullivan also took Helen outdoors frequently to make her feel all the sensations which can be captured outside  - wind, warmth, chill, moisture, smell, textures of surfaces, etc.

A lot of people think Helen Keller (1880 - 1968) was blind from birth, but this was not so.  Her infirmities in both sight and hearing were brought on by a childhood illness, but prior to that she had experienced both light and sound. These memories were important in that Helen was aware of a whole world around her in which she was still a part, though sensorially deprived.

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The Story of My Life

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