Disclaimer: The following was excerpted from an article in the Capper Foundation Archives, originally published in The Kansas City Times. The choice of words used at the time this was written may not reflect current Capper Foundation inclusive language and views.
Janice’s cerebral palsy once seemed helpless and hopeless; today she has found help, and through it, hope.
For five years, Janice developed slowly, but the school at Capper Foundation was not concerned about the length of time as long as there was some evidence that the child was being helped.
Eventually, Janice was reading, understanding and being understood. She was identifying objects, she could add and sometimes she almost used her finger — but not quite.
The failure to get the child to point with one finger provided a singular, immediate goal. Janice must be taught to use her index finger. The more Janice’s teacher, Elaine, thought about it the more important the act became.
Why would learning to use the index finger be such an important accomplishment? Because the index finger points, pushes, beckons, rejects. Encircled in touch with the thumb, it can move a pencil.
Therein lies the hope for a child like Janice — a link of communication between her mind and the people outside. Computers would program activities for her which with a “yes” or “no” key would allow her to demonstrate her intellect and make a responsible contribution to society.
To press a lever, to push a button, the effort to make Janice use only one finger went on. The newer movement was painful, holding the other fingers back was hard, the task was repeated again and again. If this child was ever going to be able to develop to her fullest capacity, she had to learn to use that one finger.
One day, Janice and Elaine were working on the game of association. Elaine said, “Janice, do a real big favor for me to show how much you like me?” The child’s eyes brightened in question. “Point out the lion on the page with just the number one finger.” The fist clenched, as it dropped toward the picture, and the index finger touched the lion’s mane.
The achievement was momentary. The finger went back into the fist. However, now Elaine and the other teachers knew that Janice could be made capable of controlling her fingers. More months of persuasion and practice would be needed to turn the singular success into a habit, and more years of using that finger in association with her studies will be needed, but perhaps, someday, Janice will be ready to poke her finger into a hopeful future.