Thank you to Dr. Alex Andrich and Patti Andrich! At COVD’s 2017 Annual Meeting, I attended their workshop on integrating sensory and motor systems in vision therapy. They introduced me to the concept of brain maps. This is a core concept in designing vision therapy programs and one I put into play as soon as I got back to work.
Brain maps are spatial representations of the functional brain. Different parts of the brain are involved with different functions and they can be mapped. As the brain grows and develops, we are able to perform more complex behaviors. The brain maps representing these behaviors likewise become more detailed and complex. There are afferent and efferent pathways; think of one-way roads connecting various cities. There are behaviors that have been performed many times and some that are just beginning to emerge; think of interstates vs. back roads. There are behaviors that require input and coordination of many sensory systems; think of all the roads converging onto the turnpike.
Sensory and motor development builds the roads and all their connections. It begins with the sensory inputs (touch, smell, sound, sight, taste and movement) that form the basis of perception, as we become aware of these sensory inputs and begin to organize and interpret them. Perception is the result of experience, and it enables action. As the developing child builds more complex brain maps, we see “a transition from reactivity to connectivity which leads to productivity.”*
But sometimes this developmental brain mapping doesn’t happen properly. For a variety of reasons, some of which we may not even understand, some children don’t build enough roads, or they cannot find the entrance ramp to the interstate, or they get detoured. Development can also be disrupted by catastrophic events. Even if a child builds a very sophisticated brain map, an earthquake (a brain injury) can destroy the roads and their connections.
“In vision therapy, we use a wide array of whole brain techniques with vision paramount to nurture neurological sensory-motor connections.”* We build brain maps.
Team Andrich taught us how to build better brain maps:
- Remember Hebb’s Rule—cells that fire together wire together. Repetition!
- Retained primitive reflexes can interfere with mapping new roads. Be on the lookout.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for the sensory systems to interconnect because vision does not happen in a vacuum.
Team Andrich demonstrated tons of activities to build better brain maps and enhance a vision therapy program for patients of any age. If you have an opportunity to attend a workshop by this dynamic VT duo, don’t miss it! In the meantime, here are some words and ideas to help you start designing dynamic, fun-filled, and purposeful activities that support better brain maps:
- BOSU Ball
- weighted blankets
- Rubik’s cube
- yoked prism
- virtual reality
- zoom ball
- math machine
- handwriting camp
- play dough
- science games and experiments
*Andrich P, Andrich A. Integrating Sensory and Motor in Vision Therapy through Reflex Foundations. Presented at COVD Annual Meeting, April 29, 2017, Jacksonville FL.