Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Robert Fox.  Dr. Fox graduated from SUNY-State College of Optometry in 1985, after which he completed a residency in Rehabilitative Optometry at the Northport VA Medical Center.  He is in private practice in Schenectady, NY, and also consults on brain injury related vision problems at the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady.  When not busy at his practice Dr. Fox likes to snowboard, play hockey, and golf.

The parents of our vision therapy patients are consistently amazed by progress in leaps and bounds made by their children in academics, sports, and many other areas.  We know the importance of the visual process in learning, motor performance, memory, and action.  Even knowing this, why do we often see gains often far and above that expected in the short time the child is with us at a pace with far exceeds the rate of gains made in other therapies such as occupational and speech therapies?  The answer to this may be the way we deal with the “OK Plateau.”

I just finished reading Joshua Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein:  the Art and Science of Remembering Everything.”  The book chronicles Foer’s year-long journey from a journalist covering the United States memory championship, to actually competing on the stage at this same competition.  He reviews the history of memory aids and mnemonics from the ancient Greeks to modern times.  He introduces us to brain injured patients who have lost the ability to remember anything anymore, and to savants such as the man who inspired Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

Two aspects of this book made me reflect on what we, as developmental optometrists, do in vision therapy.  The first is the use of visualization.  Foer learns how our brains are incredibly good at remembering places and pictures, as opposed to abstract concepts.  Those skilled in instantly forming pictures in their head to which new concepts and ideas can be linked are much better at remembering things.  The ancient Greeks would take a visual walk through their homes, linking images to each room, to remember concepts for their speeches.  As developmental optometrists, we know how important it is to use parquetry blocks, visual mazes, and tachistoscopes in our vision therapy programs.  Visualization is considered by many the highest form of visual processing.

The second concept in Foer’s book is less obvious, but much more relevant to our success in vision therapy.  It is the “OK Plateau.”  In many activities we all reach a level where we seem to do well, but no longer improve.  Two examples are driving and typing.  After a couple of years of driving we settle into our levels of driving and don’t really improve much, despite continuing to drive regularly.  In typing, we start out awkwardly, but reach a certain speed and seem to stop improving.  This plateau is the time when we switch from learning mode to a more automatic, subconscious level of performance.  Foer learns that only by intentionally pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and being willing to make mistakes can you reach a higher level of performance.

In this same manner, we use VT to push our patients into areas of learning and performance they did not think they could have success at.  Just when they think they have mastered a procedure, we go and make it harder with metronomes, balance boards, prisms, and other loading techniques.  We teach our patients that a plateau is just a temporary stop on a journey to higher levels of performance, thinking, and learning.  They realize that they can control the outcome of a variety of situations, be it in the classroom, the sports field, or life in general.  As a result our patients become more successful in and out of the therapy room and are grateful for the skills with which we have provided them.

Moonwalking with Einstein” certainly made me think about how we attend to and remember things.  I plan on teaching some of my therapy patients memory techniques to show them that everyone has the capacity to remember large amounts of information.  I will strive to teach them that using what they learn in vision therapy can help them be successful in life.

Moonwalking Einstein

Read more blog posts from Dr. Fox here.

Read more about motivating therapy patients here.