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Visual Development, Part 2
Last time I posted about the issue of visual development and how the human visual system and visual process are not fully developed at birth. In fact, the visual process is meant to develop throughout our lives as the visual demands we are faced with change in nature and degree. Humans probably stood a better chance of developing the visual process to a degree that fully met their needs before the advent of the printed page. We are not biologically designed for prolonged periods of time staring at books, computers and other flat things day after day. Clearly we must do these things to be successful members of society, but these activities are very stressful on a visual system designed for hunting, gathering, craft-making and other movement-oriented activities, which made up the bulk of the human experience prior to the modern age.
As it turns out many of us are not neurologically prepared for the act of reading until around the age of eight, yet we are pushing our young ones to read earlier and earlier. We do this with no regard for and no understanding of a given child’s visual status for the most part. It is not nearly enough to test a child’s distance eyesight and pronounce her visually sound.
One problem with pushing children to read early is the lifelong reading style that may develop. I know this very well because I was one of these children. Determined children will often find a way to succeed no matter what. I was not one of these when it came to reading even though I was reading at an early age. One very “successful” response for someone who is frustrated with reading is avoidance and that was my strategy through most of my primary education years. It makes good sense to avoid things that frustrate you and make you feel incompetent. It is a successful strategy as far as maintaining your self-esteem, but it is obviously not a successful strategy as far as succeeding in school and in society as a whole. And in many cases it becomes difficult to maintain self-esteem as you watch your peers do better and listen to your teachers and parents bemoan your lack of success and/or effort.
It is common, in the case of reading, to learn to read despite the absence of appropriate visual development. Reading may be learned as an auditory/verbal procedure instead of a visual one. This may work more or less, but is it considerably less efficient. A similar phenomenon may occur in a variety of activities. Someone who is struggling visually and is not getting the necessary help will develop compensating strategies in order to achieve what is needed. The help necessary to replace these compensating strategies is best found by consulting a behavioral optometrist who provides vision therapy and therapeutic lenses.
The compensations that emerge from the struggle to succeed are often seen as “strengths” and may not actually be reported in an interview designed to expose weaknesses. That is, especially in the very early grades, the child may be seen as succeeding. If she is successful enough she may never get caught out so to speak. That is, until the demand increases to a degree that is greater than the compensations can manage. It is almost guaranteed that the demand will eventually reach a point where the compensating strategies are insufficient to achieve at a desirable level of performance. This is when performance typically starts to deteriorate, often leading to emotional and behavioral issues.
A typical example is the child who learns to read early but then cannot seem to keep up. This often becomes evident in the third or fourth grade when we are expected to make the leap from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. The early reader often uses a strategy that relies less on the visual process and more on a verbal/auditory approach. The verbal/auditory style often works well early on, but fails to suffice once the demand increases significantly. The verbal/auditory reader will never be as fast as the visual reader. The reduction in speed of reading goes hand-in-hand with reduced comprehension and lack of enthusiasm for reading in general. Substandard reading ability is a major obstacle to success in our culture. Another example is the child with a high IQ that displays reading abilities of a much younger child. The children in these two examples, and there are many, are very likely to see significant improvement with vision therapy and proper developmental/reading lenses. Many of these children suddenly develop a much better attitude toward reading after a few months of vision therapy, often asking for new books to read for the first time. Their parents obviously love this.
The human visual process is meant to develop throughout our lives. Certainly the early phases of this development are crucial. But, the visual process must continue to develop as our culture evolves and as our personal lives lead us to new and usually more visually demanding experiences. Only behavioral optometrists have the knowledge and the desire to help people manage these challenges as they arise. Behavioral optometrists can use vision therapy to help people of all ages at any point in their visual development process. And only behavioral optometrists are inclined, willing and able to prevent visual problems from occurring in the first place.
Behavioral optometrists who focus on visual development design vision therapy programs that fill in vision development gaps, stimulate slowed vision development and/or jump-start the next stage(s) of vision development needed to anticipate and manage the demands yet to come. Specially prescribed lenses, especially when used together with a vision therapy program, are likely to do even more to support and further the visual development process. The goal of vision therapy is to provide the appropriate conditions that enable a person to learn how to use the visual process more effectively while helping the person incorporate the changes they have made. This maximizes the likelihood that the improvements acquired in vision therapy will not only remain intact over time, but will tend to increase as the person goes through day-to-day life using the improved visual skills in all the various situations encountered.
Next time: Vision Therapy Will Help