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The Promised Update

I promised an update and unfortunately that did not occur in a timely manner. I apologize for that. I had an evaluation by my vision therapy doctor and learned that I had not made any observable progress towards my goal of stereopsis. I became discouraged and stopped working on any vision therapy. I have told myself that I should start again, but have not followed through on that intention. The E.Y.E. unit, or Eyeport Vision Training system apparently did not help in my case. I went through the recommended 12 weeks of exercises plus a few additional weeks before my doctor evaluated my progress.

My doctor has recently encouraged me to try it again, so that will be part of my new regimen. I will also be looking for things I can do between phone calls in the off season at work. I have been working for the past 21 months as an insurance agent, selling medicare supplements over the phone. That means I am looking at a computer screen for 6+ hours per day. I feel like my vision has gotten worse and my eye turn is more pronounced, so it’s time to take action. Even though my doctor didn’t observe improvement, I felt like my eyes were improving while I was in vision therapy, and it was easier to do the limited things I could do (like fusion up to 12”).

Additionally, my daughter was evaluated at her yearly checkup and she had lost some ground. We had a few therapy sessions to get her back up to speed.  I guess my family is among those who need to keep doing vision therapy exercises at home in order to retain their results. Our doctor recommended she do therapy at home once a week. She continues to have great results from vision therapy. I have not been so lucky yet. Wish me luck!

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Discovering Phantograms

My behavioral optometrist, Dr. Davies,  recently shared a fun new book with me, as well as the accompanying website. The book is entitled Pop-Up 3D: Discover Phantograms, Fantastic & Fun Natural 3D Pop-Ups, by Barry Rothstein, Steve Hughes & Steve Boddy. images-1The website is http://www.3ddigitalphoto.com/default.asp. The fun part for me is that I can actually see the 3D images and I don’t have to be as close to the image as when I look at the Magic Eye books. My hope is that I can gradually work to expand my range and depth by looking at these images.

I have a sense that the images could pop more than they are presently for me, and that’s what I’ll be working on as well.  My ten-year-old daughter Abby, who I have mentioned in previous posts, really enjoyed looking at this book. Abby is like the miniature version of me as far as strabismus is concerned, but has now developed wonderful 3D vision. I asked her how high the images were popping and I feel that she sees them more true-to life than I do. For me the image is at a slight slant rather than standing straight up on the page.

Both resources explain that phantograms are images that are drawn or photographed to imitate normal vision. When viewed with red/blue glasses (with blue on the right eye) the images leap off the page. The image is intended to be flat on a table or desk, or on your knees and you view it at a 45 degree angle.  They have a cool tutorial on the website that tells you how you can photograph your own phantograms. Apparently it’s a bit tricky, so I probably won’t be trying it anytime soon!

They also include a cool freebie on the website, an image of the week. phantviewThey allow you to print one for your own use, since it needs to be viewed while laying flat. I attempted to print out the image for this week and it wanted to print on two pages, (just a bit of it on one page, but I didn’t print it). There’s probably a trick to resizing and getting it on one page, but I didn’t figure it out. However, I did print page three which included images of the week for 5-25-13 through 2-16-13. The images were pretty small, but I could see them popping off the page. I just had to get a little closer than I do when viewing the book.

The website is also a great place to buy the books (with imperfect copies at a discount) as well as replacement 3D glasses and 3D note cards. The cards are $3.75 (or less in bulk) and come with the 3D glasses to view the image. If you have some 3D glasses with blue on the right eye, you are all set to print out that image of the week and check it out!

The Talent Code: part 2

I started reading the next book in my pile, so it’s time I finished sharing my practical application of The Talent Code.  First, I’ll share a little more about the first principle, which is deep practice. Then I’ll talk about the other two principles: ignition and master coaching.

I love that it follows closely with how I encourage my students to practice piano. When they do these things, progress is so much greater! The first rule is “chunk it up.” First you absorb the whole thing (i.e. listen to or watch the skill), then break it into chunks and slow it down. Rule two is that you repeat it and rule three is learn to feel it.

This week as I concentrated more on how I could share the principles of talent with my children and piano students, it was amazing to experience how those principles flow naturally into each other.

I spent a great deal of time last week with two of my piano students who were playing together  in a duet festival on Saturday. One was my youngest daughter, Abby, who finished vision therapy a few months ago, and the other was her friend Emily. They are both fifth graders, ages 10 and 11 and have been playing the piano for a few years but not excelling in the way I would hope. Emily had been out of town and was struggling to put the duet together.

I realized that perhaps I had not instilled the principles of deep practice sufficiently well into either of these students. So, we went back to the problem areas and did slow repetition with Emily alone, then with Abby, who had a hard time slowing down. So, Emily did it slowly with me and then with Abby. We worked through all the problem spots and got all the notes together.

“There’s something missing still,” I coached. “It needs emotion. Show what this is really about!” I went to youtube and I pulled up a performance of their piece In the Hall of the Mountain King in it’s original form for orchestra and had them listen. They caught the excitement and enjoyed the accelerating tempo of the performance. Something finally clicked for them both and they played freely with passion. Emily’s mom and I just looked at each other in wonder.

The unintended consequence was that they also started to speed up when it got louder, which was not lost on the judge at the festival Saturday. And they got nervous so they didn’t play out like they had, but we knew what they could do and so do they!

I also took a few minutes in one of last week’s coaching sessions and played a couple of my favorite fun pieces for them, both by Jon Schmidt. This goes along with the principle of IGNITION. Many things can provide ignition, like hearing the orchestra play their duet. I asked what they really wanted to play, even if it was beyond their current capabilities. They both wanted to play music by Jon Schmidt (Waterfall  and All of Me. Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fAZIQ-vpdw). So I played the original versions and shared simplified versions that they could learn. Both girls are so much more excited to play the piano now!

And my almost 13-year-old daughter who gave up piano some time ago overheard me teling Abby and Emily that they could learn whatever they wanted and said “What the heck! You never let me do that!” So now she’s learning Waterfall by rote (i.e. by ear) because I think that may just be the key to her learning the reading skills she needs. (I’m having her follow along with the music as I play it for her.)

The bottom line of this experience is that by providing all three of these principles this week, deep practice, ignition and master coaching, I saw big shifts in these students and renewed confidence in myself as a teacher and master coach.

And can’t you just feel the joy in musical creation when you hear Jon Schmidt play All of Me?

Aperture-Rules!

Today’s vision therapy appointment showed that the previous theory that my eyes are not really near-sighted was probably not accurate. Dr. Davies dilated my eyes with some really strong drops to take a closer look at my eyes. The other advantage of dilation is that it paralyzes the muscles so that theoretically my eyes should be straighter. Well, I am not observing them to be straighter, but it is somewhat easier to do certain exercises. As for the shape of my eyeballs, apparently my eyes adjusted to being overcorrected when I was young, and now they appear to be that elongated (near-sighted) shape.

As for the exercises that are easier, one is the aperture-rule. I got one of my very own today so I can work on it at home. I was able to fuse several more images than previously. I am hopeful that my eyes remember what to do when they are no longer dilated. We’ll see when the drops wear off.Image I found an interesting video on the aperture-rule on youtube (Aperture Rule.wmv). It explains the process pretty thoroughly. There are several related videos posted by vision therapy students as they demonstrate and learn the process.

I observed my son (who had convergence insufficiency) do the aperture-rule in a therapy session one day several months ago and it took him quite a while at first (a couple of minutes at a time) to achieve fusion, but he kept at it until he did. A couple of minutes sounds short until you stare at the images for 120 seconds. During most of Andrew’s therapy I was doing my own session, so it was good for me to watch him at work. It let me know that it’s ok to be patient, keep looking, relaxing and training my eyes to work like they should.

The goal for me is to become competent in doing the convergence (one aperture) fusion and then move on to the two aperture divergence training.

Improving vision naturally!

I have studied many programs and books on natural vision improvement over the past two years. These books and courses in vision improvement have many common characteristics. Most admit that what they teach contradicts what your eye doctor will tell you about vision. They also include eye exercises of various types. In my experience, the only doctors who will give you eye exercises are developmental optometrists. They specialize in functional vision improvement. That means they can help you teach your eyes to work better together, but do not advocate improvement in visual acuity (distance vision). In contrast, the natural vision improvement programs teach that you can completely rid yourself of glasses or contact lenses.

Each program begins with a discussion of the eye’s structure and the function of each part of the eye. Most also provide a list of terms with definitions. One common misconception that is often addressed is that we are born with certain eye challenges. However, vision is actually a learned process. Some of us don’t develop all the visual skills we need and so we find other ways of coping or accommodating for the visual deficit. Visual development depends on the experiences and environment of each individual. Good early visual skills can be damaged later by stress, poor nutrition and aging. Some people don’t develop good visual skills early on, others are compromised by excessive exposure to fluorescent lighting or hours of computer eyestrain. And most significant for me: some people see in 3D while others view the world as basically flat.

Since vision is a learned skill, it can also be improved through practice and teaching, which is the foundation of all vision therapy. One of my favorite books on improving your vision is: Improve your vision without glasses or contact lenses: a new program of therapeutic eye exercises. It’s by the American Vision Institute: Dr. Beresford, Dr. Muris, Dr. Allen and Dr. Young. I like it because it gave me a technique none of the other programs suggested, one that I knew I could incorporate into my life rather easily. It’s called “a year of traffic lights.” The suggestion is to do eye exercises at each stop light. The authors presuppose that the average person will stop at approximately ten lights per day for about 2 minutes at each light, providing about 20 minutes for practicing eye exercises. That’s what my vision therapist recommends anyway. It means that I can do a little extra, depending on how much travel I do that day.

They simplify the exercises down to “Seven new visual habits.”

Habit #1: Pumping. Other programs call this near/far focusing. The specific details of this exercise vary, but the basic idea is the same. It’s even one I have done at my doctor’s office in a manner specific to my eye issues. Focus on the smallest detail of an object about 6 inches away and then rhythmically change focus to something more than 15 feet away. Choose a different object each time you focus in the distance, while the near object stays stationary.

Habit #2: Tromboning. My doctor actually called one of the exercises in his office by this name. There are various names given for this technique, but the basis is the same.; Hold an object (finger, thumb, pen, etc.) at arm’s length in front of you and slowly bring it toward you until it touches the tip of your nose. Then move it slowly back out to arms length, like a musician playing a trombone. You should keep it in focus, not seeing double, while breathing slowly in and out with the movement.

Habit #3: Clock rotations. Start by looking at a far object directly ahead. While keeping head and shoulders still, look to the far left, as if looking at the 9:00 on your giant clock. Stretch for a couple of seconds, not looking at anything in particular, then return to far object at the center. Repeat for 10:00, 11:00, etc. all the way around the clock. Do it slowly. This stretches the extraocular muscles.

Habit #4: Eye Rolls. Slowly roll eyes in a complete circle one way then the other. Aim for coordination and control as you stretch the extraocular muscles. This should never be done violently or with any jerking. You don’t want to see flashes of light because that signals stress to the retina. The goal is to develop smooth, controlled eye movements. If it makes you dizzy to do clock rotations and eye rolls, you can cover your eyes with your hands to do them with your eyes open underneath. (You probably don’t want to cover your eyes at the traffic light, howeverJ.)

Habit #5: Slow Blinking. Inhale and blink normally. Close eyes as you exhale, relax and slowly blow the air out. The object is to just relax, slow blinking in time to your slow breathing.

Habit #6: Squeeze Blinking. Squeeze eyelids tightly shut and hold to a count of three. Open wide and blink a few times then keep repeating. This produces more tear fluid to refresh the eyes. Isolate the eyelid muscles as you repeat this exercise.

Habit #7: Blur Zoning. This also has various names (magic pencil, etc.). Slowly run your gaze around the edge of a blurred object, following the outlines. Myopes (nearsighted individualsl) will look at a far object while hyperopes (far-sighted people) or presbyopes (those who need reading glasses) will look at a near object. (Choose what is blurry for you.) Study the smallest detail you can see and work to determine the exact shape, working on smaller and smaller details. Avoid squinting as you calmly pick out more details.

ROTATE techniques at each stoplight. They can also be done during TV commercials, or when reading or talking on the phone. You can also do them while walking or weight lifting (during whatever exercise you do.)

These seven techniques are found in various forms in most of the programs I have studied. Improve your vision also includes sixteen booster techniques which range from positive (power) thinking to chart scanning to acupressure, light therapy and palming. My favorite is the last one: aversion therapy. It is suggested that after you have adapted to a weaker prescription you smash the previous pair. You get out all the negative feelings and commit to better vision. I probably couldn’t really smash a perfectly good pair of glasses, so I would choose to donate them to someone less fortunate instead. ( If you keep the frames, they recommend that you wrap the lenses in adhesive tape and put them in a plastic bag before smashing them so pieces of glass don’t fly everywhere.)

Several times in the course of this book, readers are encouraged to use the techniques under the care of a behavioral optometrist. The authors share the address for COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) and OEP (Optometric Extension Program Foundation). There are no phone numbers or website information, probably because the book was published in 1996. Searchers can now find answers regarding vision therapy on the COVD and OEP websites. This is one of the few books or programs which suggests working with a behavioral optometrist. I have found it a helpful starting place in my quest for better vision.

Ready, Get SET, Go!

One of the activities my eye doctor has recommended is a game called SET. It’s a card game and the skills needed to play it use both sides of the brain. Integrating both sides of my brain as I work toward stereovision is what I’m all about! I’m ordering my copy of the game TODAY so I can play it with my family. Meanwhile, I found some fun online versions and I have become quite obsessed.

The first one is connected to the SET game website:http://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle_frame.htm. It’s a New York Times daily puzzle and you can enter to win a prize. I don’t know what you win, but I enter just for fun anyway:) I like this one because there is only one daily puzzle and when I have completed it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. The other online version I found is at http://thebreretons.com/setgame/. This one is really dangerous because when you complete the puzzle (i.e. identify six sets), it congratulates you and asks if you want to play again. It actually never ends and has become rather addictive for me. I sometimes get stuck and just have to click away from the site. (And when I’m not stuck I have to do the same thing!) The good news is that I am getting pretty good at it, so hopefully that means it’s helping my brain rewire:)

The game has been around for about 38 years and has won 29 best game awards. I am surprised I had never heard of it before! Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“Set is a real-time card game designed by Marsha Falco in 1974 and published by Set Enterprises in 1991. The deck consists of 81 cards varying in four features: number (one, two, or three); symbol (diamond, squiggle, oval); shading (solid, striped, or open); and color (red, green, or purple).[1] Each possible combination of features (e.g., a card with three striped green diamonds) appears precisely once in the deck.”

The online versions provides a random grouping of 12 cards to make sets from. I’m looking forward to playing it as a card game with my family!