Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

The Inward Empire

Christian Donlan

 

            Christian Donlan becomes a father at the same time that he develops multiple sclerosis. The power of the book is his ability to express his feelings, especially about his disease. While his particular disease is MS, there are commonalities of symptoms and reactions to other, non-curable neurologic diseases. His reactions and his writing make the book an intriguing read. The following passages are those that I either found particularly interesting or I was struck by the communication.

An idea of where the illness stops and I begin is often problematic.

I would argue that neurological diseases are ultimately an attack on individuality.

“The Disembodied Lady” (a case description from Oliver Sacks) exists within the strange spook country of proprioception, the means – along with vision and the balance organs of the vestibular system – by which the body creates a sense of itself in space. Proprioception is a deeply physical business, and yet, it’s simultaneously a largely intangible one. It is not just the brain’s idea of where the body is from moment to moment. It is part of what makes a person’s physical experiences feel real and personal in the first place.

A proprioceptive deficit is therefore an intellectual deficit: it means that the messages being sent back to the brain are not being properly understood.

Proprioception is a guiding hand so deft and considerate that you might never come close to spotting it, and this is the tragedy of the body’s most elegant systems. You only learn how clever they are when the break – and when it becomes a matter of how clever they once were.

Proprioception was my introduction to the world of neurological disarray. I suspect that proprioception is an ideal introduction: a gentle indicator that there is always a level of mediation between the world and our experience of it.

It is hard to spot the things that happen when your brain starts to go wrong, because your brain is the last thing that is going to be able to tell you about it.

That is memory. Remembering something is an act of destruction, covered up by an almost instantaneous act of creation.

The problem for me was largely mechanical. The likely culprits were not the visual processing pathways leading to the occipital lobe, which houses the visual cortex, but rather the nerves that supply the muscles which operate the eyes like pulleys. My eyes were no longer perfectly aligned, and this meant that the images the visual cortex was trying to put together had ceased to overlap as cleanly as they usually did. My perceptions were becoming harder to mesh.

It is not that my eyes were exhausted. It’s more that there was an angry congestion building somewhere behind them, in the parts of the brain that had to deal with the chaos my eyes were suddenly delivering. So much trouble, and all this from a shift in one eye – a shift, most likely less that a millimeter. A shift so tiny that my eyeballs, viewed in the Ikea bathroom mirrors, seemed perfectly normal as they tracked up and down, from right to left.

Elsewhere, it seemed that my ability to deal with the subtext was diminished. In the evenings, or if I was particularly tired, I found that I could no longer peer beneath the surface of what people were saying as easily as I had before. I was stuck in the literal.

Some symptoms are part of what I feared at first and then forgot to fear – that MS could be such a wonderful, powerful all-purpose excuse I might invoke it a little too often.

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Assessment of Silent Reading Efficiency

 

“The Decline of Comprehension-Based Silent Reading Efficiency in the United States: A Comparison of Current Data with Performance in 1960” appeared in Reading Research Quarterly in 2016. While there are endless debates about reading pedagogy, there is consensus that the best way to assess silent reading efficiency is by measuring eye movements. Continue reading

Plasticity in Sensory Systems

2011 International Conference on Plastic Vision

Edited by Jennifer K. E. Steeves and Laurence R. Harris

The term “plasticity” in neuroscience means that the brain can change and discoveries over the last couple of decades have proven that we retain a degree of neuroplasticity into old age. This volume is a collection of papers from the presentations at the meeting. None of the scientists are optometrists but all of their research relates to vision development and vision therapy. Visual skills and the processing of visual information develop through experience and can be modified through directed, intensive rehearsal. This happens as people improve at a craft, hobby, music, art, job, or sport. Visual skills and visual processing can also be developed through vision therapy. The following excerpts are taken directly from the scientific papers. Continue reading

Scanning

Scanning is used to find an object, a person, or a word. This is usually simple for most adults, but not always (such as men looking into a refrigerator). As is true for many skills that have become automatic, it is easy to overlook the complexity involved and how difficult it is to learn.

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Scanning requires sequential eye movements and fixations. It requires visualizing the desired object and maintaining that image while looking at other objects. This is particularly challenging if the other objects are either distracting or similar to the object in question. When this is the case, the load on working memory increases and it becomes more difficult. If we are looking for our sneakers, that is one level of challenge. If we are looking for tomato soup amongst other soups or a phrase on a page, that is very different. It can be like singing one song while listening to another. If the eye movements are random, the fixations too brief, or if the visualized image fades, we will not succeed. Scanning requires sustained vigilance.

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The inability to scan efficiently wastes time and is frustrating. The quality of scanning reflects a person’s organization. They are both disciplined, sequential, and require working memory. Academically, scanning is important when we are copying so we can find our place when looking back-and-forth. It is important when finding information, such as answers to a question in a passage that has been read. If a child needs to start to read a passage over, it will be time-consuming and they will inevitably forget what is was that they were looking for. Scanning requires the integration of top-down processing (keeping the image in working memory and filtering everything else that is seen) and bottom-up processing (directing the eyes with a goal-oriented priority). Scanning is one of the skills developed in optometric vision therapy.

names

Visualization

The Effect of Saccadic Training on Early Reading Fluency

Solutions for your child who struggles in school starts by knowing what to ask your eye doctor

Vision and Learning: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

Proust and the Squid:The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Maryanne Wolf

I have blogged previously about Dyslexia, Fluency, and the Brain which was edited by Maryanne Wolf. She has been a leading researcher on the processes of reading in the brain for decades. I have chosen the following excerpts from this book for their appreciation for how reading develops which provides insights into how reading readiness and reading instruction can be improved…. Continue reading