Archive for the ‘Vision Therapy’ Category

Outsmarting Autism

July 6, 2014

Front Cover

With great excitement and pride I announce the release today of my second book, Outsmarting Autism: The Ultimate Guide to Management, Healing and Prevention.  It is available on Amazon in both an e-book and a paperback, as well as from the publisher.  As I watched the magnificent spray of fireworks brighten the skies over the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh last night, I secretly thought they were celebrating not just Independence Day, but also this momentous milestone of mine.

In 2008, I downloaded 40 years of experience and knowledge from my brain into EnVISIONing a Bright Future, my first book. It contains all that was known then about possible causes, treatments and management of autism spectrum disorders. I never dreamed that just as much NEW information would emerge in the next six years: genomic testing that explains in part why some kids become autistic, and iPads with amazing apps, are just a couple of additions.  So…I just HAD to write another book!

Outsmarting Autism, like EnVISIONing in 2008, is the most comprehensive book available on what is now called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Whether you are new to the world of autism, are familiar with treatment options, or are a veteran who has “been there, done that,” this book is for you! Discoveries about possible etiologies and promising therapies are emerging so quickly that you are sure to learn something new.

Outsmarting Autism guides you step-by-step with practical information from a variety of fields that families, specialists, and educators can put to use immediately.

Step 1: Take Away the Bad Stuff, and Add Back the Good Stuff

♦ Clean up the environment ♦ Eat, sleep, and drink smarter ♦ Boost the immune system ♦ Balance hormones ♦ Detoxify

Step 2: Correct Foundational Issues

♦ Remove structural impediments ♦ Integrate reflexes

Step 3: Address Sensory Problems

♦ Improve sensory processing ♦ Develop vision

Step 4: Focus on Communicating, Interacting, and Learning

♦ Build language ♦ Concentrate on social-emotional skills ♦ Learn to read, write, and calculate ♦ Use technology

Step 5: Plan for the Future

♦Transition to independence ♦ Prevent autism from conception

Don’t let the book’s mammoth size scare you. Even though it is over 500 pages, I have made it extremely easy to understand, and Cindy Coan’s amazing index allows you to find anything you are looking for quickly and easily.

I hope you will read Outsmarting in sequence.  If you decide not to, at least read Chapters 2 and 3 on Total Load Theory and how today’s lifestyle has contributed to the autism epidemic, before jumping ahead. Autism did not just show up overnight. We now know the many risk factors, and how to be proactive and prevent more children from becoming affected. Individuals with autism are physically sick, and making healthy lifestyle changes, no matter how overwhelming they seem, can be the difference between management and healing.

This book could not have happened without the help and support of so many people.  To the owner and staff at Word Association, my awesome editor, Kendra Williamson, and all of my colleagues and friends who contributed material, proofed and edited, and stood by me while I worked every day for the past two years, my deepest gratitude.

Outsmarting Autism is meant to challenge some of your beliefs. If you have questions, I have answers. “Like” the book on Facebook, and write me a comment.  Go to Amazon and review it. Check out my website at www.OutsmartingAutism.com and see where I am speaking next.  I will be launching the book in Denver and Boulder on July 29th.  From 3- 5pm I will be at Proactive Wellness and at 7:30 pm at the Boulder Bookstore. In September, I am finalizing dates for New York City, Westchester and New Jersey.  Want me to include your town on my year-long book tour?  Let me know.

Now it’s time to get started. We can outsmart autism together.

 

Stress

February 17, 2013

Stress from Google

Everyone is stressed! The fewer the stressors, the more opportunities for learning and development for children of all ages. Our goal is to identify and eliminate as many stressors as possible.

Environmental – Our homes and schools are full of stressors.
o Toxic Chemicals – Lead, mercury, antimony, aluminum, and other “heavy metals” reduce immunity, and interfere with the body’s ability to perform its many functions. Lead is “old news” and we know that any amount is unsafe for cognitive development. Every child should have lead levels tested.
Mercury, antimony, and aluminum are the “new” toxins that are also showing up in the bodies and brains of children with all types of delays. Their sources are power plants, ground water, petroleum plants, dental amalgams from the mother, vaccines, flame retardants, cookware, and other unlikely places. Read more about these metals here  and here.
Green your building with non-toxic materials for flooring, paint, cleaning supplies, building products, art and office supplies.
Chemicals from disinfectants, cleaners, building materials and other supplies “off gas” and when a person breathes them, they are toxic to the body. They are especially harmful to people with compromised immune systems, and those who have asthma.
The standard benchmark for design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings is LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Find a green building in your city, learn who greened it and consult with them.  Here is a handbook on how to green an existing building.
o Air Pollution – Open the windows when possible. When too hot, make sure air conditioning equipment is clean and not moldy. Use HEPA (an acronym for “high efficiency particulate air”) indoor air filters throughout building. HEPA filters can trap a large amount of very small particles that vacuum cleaners recirculate back into the air.
o Fluorescent lighting – Replace with bulbs that do not make noise or flicker. Use bulbs that offer the right color of lighting. Read this article on lighting.
o Noise – Play soft, gentle music, such as Mozart, which is the same rate as the human heart beat. Read more information  on “The Mozart Effect.”
Biological – Our bodies are toxic waste dumps too. Reduce our exposures.
o Water – Good hydration is essential for learning. Ensuring that our drinking water is pure is one of the most important steps we can take for children with developmental delays. Water should be available and offered frequently. Use water filters throughout the building.
o Diet and Nutrition – What kids are eating can be the determining factor between health and sickness. This is especially true for children with developmental delays. Sugar is one of the most damaging of all products ingested. Read more about it here.
Encourage families to cook and not eat “fast food.” Help them understand the importance of a varied diet of natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, good quality protein and good fats.
Research is showing that eliminating some foods from kids’ diets helps their development and learning tremendously. Many foods are shown to cause ear infections. Two types of foods that are particularly problematic for kids with delays are those containing gluten, the protein from wheat, and casein, the protein from dairy products. Read about gluten and dairy in many websites containing “gfcf.”
Children with Down syndrome have especially high nutritional needs. A company that specializes in the care and feeding of those with this genetic syndrome is Nutri-Chem, in Ottawa, Canada. The founder, Kent MacLeod, a pharmacist has written a book on the importance of diet and nutritional supplementation: Down Syndrome and Vitamin Therapy.
o Allergies – Many kids with developmental issues have allergies, not only to airborne particles, insects, and other environmental pests, but also to foods. Some allergies are life-threatening and immediate, such as shellfish and peanuts. Others are troublesome, causing fatigue, rashes, respiratory and digestive problems, and are delayed, taking hours or even days to show up. Read about the different kinds of allergic reactions here.

Physical – The physical body needs a good sensory diet and sleep to reduce stress.
o Movement – Use every opportunity to move to learn. Little children’s bodies learn by moving and using their senses of touch and having their muscles and joints take in sensations. Two good books about the importance of movement in learning are, Smart Moves: Why Learning is not all in Your Head, by Carla Hannaford, and Physical Activities for Improving Learning and Behavior by Cheatum. Obtain the workbook “Begin Where They Are,” with therapy activities, from http://oepf.org/product/begin-where-they-are-0.
o Reflexes – Over 100 different reflexes are programmed into the body to get the body moving appropriately. If demands on the body are premature, before the reflexes are fully integrated, then delayed development can be the result. Learn about reflexes through an intensive training session. Learn more about reflexes at http://masgutovamethod.com
o Vision – While some children have eyesight problems that can be corrected by glasses, others have vision issues, such as the two eyes not working together, in conditions called exotropia, esotropia and strabismus. Motor activities that are the foundation for vision development and the body must be strong to support binocular vision. The relationship between vision and learning can also be a training session for those at the center. To learn more about vision, read this.
A book explaining the role of vision in learning is How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence by Getman.
o Hearing – Listening is to hearing as vision is to eyesight. Although a child can hear, his brain may not process what it hears. Several “listening programs” are available to help children give meaning to what they hear. Look here for understanding of this area.
o Sleep – Everyone needs uninterrupted sound sleep for their bodies to heal and repair. Pre-school aged children require 11-12 hours of sleep per night. Young children with disabilities might need more if they are contending with health issues. Help parents and teachers understand their kids’ need for rest periods. Read this.
Educational – Schools are often unknowingly a source of stress too.
o Inappropriate curriculum – All children learn in a predictable developmental sequence, just as they learn to walk before they run. We discourage teaching rote concepts such as the alphabet, counting and naming to young children. These skills will emerge when a child is developmentally ready. Here is an article on this subject.

o Non-ergonomic furniture – Sitting in small chairs when the trunk and head are not stable only results in compensatory techniques like tilting the head and rotating the hips. Replace hard, wooden chairs with soft gym mats, beanbags, cushions and pillows to help children develop core strength.

Emotional – Families have so many situations that add stress.
o Unreasonable expectations – This stressor is tied to the one above related to an inappropriate curriculum. Children want to please adults, and when they cannot comply with expectations, they become discouraged. Make sure that requirements are consistent with a child’s developmental age.
o Worries and fears – Some kids like being around many people; others find crowds difficult. It appeared that many of the children we saw were somewhat fearful of having so many adults watching and prodding them. Observations should be limited to one or two adults at a time until a child is comfortable emotionally.
o Family Issues – Today’s families, especially those with multiple children with disabilities, are under a great deal of stress. They need support systems to help them cope. Offer parent and sibling support groups where adults and children can share their experiences and learn from each other.

Behavioral – Treating symptoms is never the right answer.
o Medications – Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs all have side effects which can cause behavioral symptoms as benign as restlessness and irritability, and as serious as rashes, seizures and fevers. They can also interfere with sensory processing, such as cause double vision and tactile defensiveness. Instead of treating symptoms, look for natural alternatives to prescription drugs, and search for underlying causes of illness, such as food allergies and toxicity,.
o Screen Time – While young children are attracted to the bright colors, sounds and movement of objects on computers, iPads, and iPhones, these two-dimensional objects are not good for development. To learn, children need to touch and see objects in three dimensions, not on flat screens. Please consider replacing electronic toys with playthings made out of natural materials. For non-verbal children, speaking with real people is superior to speaking to a machine. Psychologist Jane Healy is the expert on brain development and screen time. Please refer to her books, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds — and What We Can Do About It, and Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence.

Summary
Even with loving, supportive parents and teachers, the our lifestyle and environment add stress to the lives of our children with developmental delays. Start with the physical environment, and reduce exposures to noise, light, toxins and sensory overload. Every time you replace a product, purchase one of higher quality with fewer toxins. Gradually, stressors will reduce, and the home and school will be more conducive places for learning and growing.

Kuwait Revisited: Offering Help to Those with Severe Disabilities

January 3, 2013

Kuwait Dubai Jordan and Erika's wedding etc 441Kuwait Dubai Jordan and Erika's wedding etc 241artists

Right before Christmas, I returned from my second mission to Kuwait. Now that the holidays are over, I want to share my impressions. I made my first trip there in May, when I was invited to assist with the launch of Center 21, whose motto is “putting the able in disabled.” This enormous undertaking is the brainchild of devoted parents who want their son and others to continue to learn and grow despite the fact that they are no longer eligible for educational services. Center 21 will provide therapeutic and recreational services for the thousands of young adults with disabilities in that tiny country squished precariously between Iran, Iraq, and Saudia Arabia.
The Hosts
Lamia and Nabil and their children Abadi, Saud and Nadia, opened their home and hearts to us. Abadi, the inspiration for Center 21 remembered me, and followed the adult strangers around like a puppy dog, high fiving us over and over again. He was clearly communicating his welcome! His younger siblings, one in college, the other a high school senior, soaked up our knowledge, learning from us at every opportunity. One of Center 21’s volunteers, Fawzi, was our driver, tour guide, technology consultant, and caterer, anticipating and taking care of our every need from sightseeing to late dinner. My team of experts instantly fell in love with our hosts’ warmth and generosity. They made this venture so comfortable and enjoyable that it hardly seemed like work!
The Team
This trip had one repeat member, my long-time friend and colleague, Aubrey Carton Lande, occupational therapist, award winning musician and horsewoman. Accompanying Aubrey and me on our excursion was Mary Rentschler, a specialist in Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI®). Completing this international team were Scandinavian neuro-developmental optometrists Thorkild and Lena Rasmussen, whose unfathomable job it was to evaluate and prescribe treatment for the undiagnosed vision issues rampant in the special needs population. As team leader, my prodigious responsibility was as case manager, educator and priority-setter. What a humbling challenge for us all!
The Mission
Whereas in May our emphasis was on visiting schools, government agencies and private organizations, this trip focused on providing individual assessments and services that could improve the quality of the lives of those with special needs. We set up serial evaluations with each expert, followed by group explanations of the role of each area in remediation, and the importance of continuity, support and follow-up by the families. In addition, similar to our previous trip, we delivered an evening conference in a magnificent ballroom, followed the next night by small group discussions on prioritizing therapies, sensory diets and reflex integration.

The Culture
Whoever would have thought that a nice Jewish girl from Pittsburgh would come out of retirement to hang out, joke with, and consult to Muslims in Kuwait? We bonded as humans with common goals and philosophies that instantly overrode our religious, educational, language, fashion and cultural differences. When speaking with parents, sometimes with a translator, my brain quickly disregarded the traditional dress worn by some, seeing only the love in their eyes, and the fear in their hearts. Kuwaiti parents are no different than my clients in the States.
The Disabilities
After working for over 40 years with families of those with special needs, I thought I had seen it all. But nothing prepared me for the complexity of the issues facing these Kuwaiti families. While the country is oil rich, it is resource poor. When a young child receives a diagnosis, little remediation is offered. “Take your child with a disability home and love him,” most families were advised.

We met many individuals age four through the mid-twenties with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and global developmental delays. Because Center 21 is planning to have an outpatient facility providing occupational and speech therapy services to all ages, younger kids were included in our case load. Many parents had not one or even two children with diagnoses; several had three of eight or so children with serious disabilities under one roof. Only the loving care of live-in nannies from countries such as the Philippines and Nepal helped them cope.
Just like their American counterparts, families in Kuwait are grateful for and blessed by all of their children, regardless of ability. However, because prenatal testing is not performed in Kuwait at the drop of a hat as it is in the US, children with genetic syndromes are common, especially in families where marriage of cousins is not uncommon.
In the United States an estimated 92% of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies, according to Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital Boston. In the absence of prenatal testing, the United States would have experienced a 34 percent increase in the number of Down syndrome births between 1989 and 2005, Skotko estimates. Instead, 15 percent fewer such babies were born during that time, representing a 49 percentage point difference between expected and observed rates, according to Skotko’s research review. Add to that other screenings, such as those for over 200 other known genetic syndromes, such as Tay-Sachs, that occur in specific populations, and the number of genetically different births is reduced even further.

The Children
Each expert spent more than an hour with about 20 children, a few of whom I introduced you to in my previous blog. For the repeats, we had the opportunity to delve more deeply, and to carve out a prioritized plan. Here are some of the complex cases we saw:

  • Dallal is the 16-year-old non-verbal young lady I introduced you to in my previous blog, who frequently rips off and breaks her glasses. In May, I had suggested a less strong Rx, blatantly practicing optometry without a license. Because she continued to reject even the weaker prescription, this summer her father decided to abandon the glasses altogether.
    The examining optometrist determined that Dallal’s eyes turned out, a condition called exotropia, and that even the lower Rx stressed her brain to keep her vision binocular. Dr. Lena thus recommended no lenses at all, and replaced her glasses with some motor activities designed to strengthen her neck and adjacent muscles, thus allowing her eyes to work together more efficiently. In addition, Aubrey worked with Dallal’s parents to design a sensory room that provided her with deep proprioceptive input and calming activities to lessen her frequent agitation.
  • Abdullah, also 16 and non-verbal, has journeyed outside of Kuwait with his devoted parents in efforts to improve function and skills. His calm demeanor and healthy appearance are unusual for a male with an autism diagnosis. His mother shared that he benefitted greatly from a gluten- and casein-free diet, and had undergone a detoxification program. Yet, he experienced both extreme tactile and auditory defensiveness that prevented him from relating to strangers.
    Addressing the tendon guard and Babinski foot reflexes calmed his extreme tactile defensiveness. Mary is hopeful that with continuous work, he will become available for other reflex repatterning techniques and eventually be ready to engage positively and communicate with others.
  • Mohammed is a teen with Down syndrome who looks more like nine than his 15 years. He has a winning smile that makes those around him melt. Totally loved and over-indulged by his family, he is courteous and compliant. He can tie his shoes, speak in sentences, and even read and write a little.
    His glasses prescription for extreme myopia was also found to exacerbate his visual skill development, and was reduced. Work on his large motor skills quickly improved his grasp of a writing implement and his speech. Discussion about the importance of immune system boosting foods and supplements and a referral to Nutri-Chem and the book Down Syndrome and Vitamin Therapy by Nutri-Chem’s pharmacist founder, Kent MacLeod, rounded out his program.
  • Achmed is one of three boys with autism in a family of eight. His exhausted mother shared matter-of-factly that in addition to coping with her sons, she is the only daughter of a mother on daily dialysis, and is having some health problems of her own. Referencing the work of one of my heroes, Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, the alarm went off in my head for mercury poisoning. Klinghardt implicates mercury whenever a family has multiple children with autism diagnoses. I asked Achmed’s mother about her dental status, and she began to weep, showing me a mouth full of silver amalgams mixed with gold crowns: a veritable petri dish for disease. We discussed the importance of working with an expert in detoxification who knew how to remove mercury safely. Without biomedical intervention, this family cannot get well.
  • Yasmeen is a four-year-old whirling dervish with a single eyebrow that crosses her forehead. In an hour’s time she never stopped moving or emitting a high pitched scream. She eats corn flakes with milk for breakfast, spaghetti for lunch, and pizza for dinner, snacks on crackers and cookies all day, and washes everything down with milk. She has a brother nine months old who is covered in eczema. Her young parents, who are biologically related, were told that their daughter is autistic, and that nothing can be done for her. Last year her teacher suggested casting her arms and putting mitts on her hands to prevent her from self-abusing and touching others. Now that these torture devices have been removed, her hands are so weak, that she cannot use them functionally.
    Yasmeen, like Achmed, is physically sick. I have no doubt that she is gluten and casein sensitive, and is ravaged with a combination of toxins, gut bugs, viruses, parasites and metals. All the sensory therapies and external interventions in my tool chest are impotent in trying to improve her function. We must start with nutrigenomic testing such as offered by Dr. Amy Yasko, to see what type of genetic abnormality this family is carrying, and offer supplements to correct the faults. Somehow, some way, we must improve her diet and get some nutrition into her. This case is urgent; the younger brother is another statistic waiting to happen.
  • Hussein is a young adult with severe cerebral palsy. He has little use of any of his limbs, and very poor head and eye muscle control. One of his legs is permanently perched in his lap, with the knee bent. He does not speak, but appears to understand what others are communicating, according to his sister, who is his advocate. He wears diapers, and is totally dependent upon caregivers for eating and moving from place to place.
    Reflex work on Hussein’s feet left his muscles uncontracted for the first time in his life. He was able to release his leg to an almost normal position. He smiled broadly. His sister started to cry, and promised to continue the prescribed therapy daily.

The Causes
Why so many severe cases with such complex needs? Maybe it started with exposure to the chemical soup from the Gulf War oil fires, compounded by unknown viruses and bacteria, and exposure to heavy metals, mercury and who knows what else, that tweaked their genes in a unique way. Add an extremely aggressive vaccination schedule, the ubiquitous presence of American fast-food restaurants, and stressors such as a well-meaning early intervention program that gets kids walking before their bodies are ready, and you have the “total load.”

The Healing
In the short time we had, we introduced that concept that the body’s top priority is staying well, and that speaking, relating and learning had to take a back seat to digestion, respiration and detoxification. We spoke of the success many families we knew in the U.S. experienced when they combined biomedical intervention with sensory therapies to heal their children with autism, and to improve behavior in those with genetic syndromes and global delays.
When anyone seeks medical help at a hospital, the first step after hydrating and stabilizing the body is running tests to determine what is wrong. We urged our Kuwaiti families to follow this model. We distributed test kits from the Great Plains Laboratory to measure the basics: gut function, the presence of dangerous metals, bacteria, viruses, and parasites, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, immune system markers and more. Hopefully, parents will take the time to collect the necessary hair, stool, urine and blood to open the door to healing.
The Future
As soon as possible, we plan to set up an online network so that parents can communicate with and support each other. Furthermore, we must also appoint case managers to provide continuous education and training. Without support and frequent check-ins families can easily become discouraged and drop out.
Nabil has suggested that we return in February to follow up and continue our work. Whenever we go back, careful monitoring is essential. We need to enlarge our team to include more vision specialists, as well as experts in assistive technology, psychology and counseling.
I would also love to host representatives of Center 21 to visit the United States and see model day, residential, vocational, biomedical, sensory, vision and other programs that they can emulate in Kuwait. If you know of a program I should include in the itinerary, please let me know.
The Payoff
I can think of no more rewarding work than what I have been blessed to do this year. Stay tuned for a continuation of this journey. Lamia, Nabil and their children, Fawzi and his beautiful family, Achmed, Mohammed, Dalal, Abdullah, Yasmeen, Hussein, and the others we saw are my new extended family. I wish them and you a healthy and happy 2013.

My Kuwait Adventure

June 7, 2012

It all started with an innocent email on April 12th.  “Hi Patricia. We are Lamia and Nabil from Kuwait. We have an autistic son. We met you in 1996 in Washington, DC. Do you remember us?  Our son was 5 at that time; he is 21 now. Awaiting your kind reply.”

Did I remember them?  Are they kidding? How could I forget this wonderful couple and their adorable non-verbal son and toddler daughter.  I fired back an instant reply:  “Of course I remember you!”

Minutes later, another email:  “Wow, nice hearing from you. Hope you are fine. We and a group of parents who are working to establish a center for special needs kids age 21 and above. The center was approved by the government a week ago.  It’s a big project. Therefore, we are requesting that you and other consultants whom you recommend, visit us by end of May to discuss the preliminary stages of development. We want to contact you on Skype for further details.”  I was trembling with excitement!

On Skype, we got down to business after laughing about what 15 years had done to our hair and figures.  I was given a carte blanche to put together a team.  Less than a month later, we hopped onto a United airbus, and in the middle of one of those famous desert sandstorms, landed in Kuwait.

Catching Up

Since Lamia, Nabil and I had had NO contact since 1996, they were unaware that I had run a non-profit organization for the past 15 years, written a book, or that exciting new therapeutic options existed for their son and others. They confessed that they had thought about trying to find me in the past, but only now did they ask their 17-year-old son to “Google” me.  They described their pleasure when my photo appeared on the computer monitor; their delight could hardly have equaled mine.

When I decided to wind down DDR several years ago, many asked, “Patty, what will you do now?’  I responded, “I don’t know; something will come up!” Was Kuwait where my boundless energy was headed?  To a country the size of New Jersey, over 6000 miles away, where over 3000 children born in 1991 were affected by the devastating oil fires?  All I could think of was what horrendous damage breathing all those toxic fumes did to pregnant mothers and their babies.

My Team

I asked for a week to choose my team. After making many contacts, I was really fortunate to be accompanied by two amazing women: my long-time friend, occupational therapist Aubrey Lande, and a new acquaintance, special education teacher and art therapist, Becky Rutherford. Aubrey is a Boulder-based sensory processing expert, award winning composer and musician, expert horsewoman and Watsu (a combination of aquatic bodywork, massage, joint compression, shiatsu, muscle stretching and dance) instructor. Becky, a sixth grade teacher at Beaver Run Special School in Kimberton, PA, is an expert in Curative Education and the Camphill movement, both aimed at nurturing individuals with special needs toward leading full lives. She and I met at the Camphill Symposium a year ago.  She still carried my business card in her purse, even though she was sure she would never see me again!

Our Assignment

Our mission was multi-faceted.  We were to advise Kuwaiti professionals, officials and parents on all aspects of the proposed center, including curriculum, architecture and engineering, meet and consult with a dozen families, put on a conference, and visit every government agency and non-profit organization having anything to do with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, genetic disorders and other developmental disabilities.  In a week, in 110 degree heat, with a mandatory siesta each afternoon! We hit the scorching pavement running!

Our gracious hosts accompanied us to about a half dozen schools and centers, including ones for early intervention.  In Kuwait, children are separated by disability, and the approaches are ones that go way back to the seventies. We observed toddlers sitting in hard, unforgiving chairs trying to match colors and shapes and teachers intent upon extinguishing unacceptable behaviors.

It’s a Small World After All

One of Kuwait’s top SLPs joined us and served as our unofficial interpreter.  “Dr. Lulu” trained at the University of Cincinnati, where she shared that she lived with a Jewish family.  “What was their name?” I asked, taking a stab.  Would you believe they were good friends of my family?

One family shared a file folder of reports on their daughter, including a summary from a consultant in Baltimore who had met with them in 1994 when the parents sought medical advice at Johns Hopkins.  The consultant had not seen the child, but took a history and wrote out her recommendations: 1) Begin a gluten-free, casein-free (GF/CF) diet. 2) Use supplements, including omega 3 and probiotics, 3) Have the child evaluated by  an occupational therapist with background in sensory issues, 4) Get an evaluation by a developmental optometrist, and 5) Contact Patricia Lemer and join Developmental Delay Resources!  I nearly feel off my chair!  Although the report was dated May, 1994, it could easily have been written today.  The same recommendations were appropriate!

Vision

Almost every individual with a disability we met had an untreated vision problem. Many had a strabismus, some a nystagmus.   Almost none wore lenses, and those who did were over-prescribed (Yes, I’m practicing optometry without a license again!).  One father told us that the eye doctor anesthetized his 15-year-old, non-verbal daughter with autism to determine her Rx.  At least once a week she rips her glasses off her face and breaks them.  He buys frames by the dozen and every weekend, combines usable components to make new pairs until he runs out of spare parts and has to buy another dozen.  I muscle-tested different strengths of plus lenses on her and recommended one that was half strength.  I’m waiting to hear the results!

Oil Rich, Resource Poor

Many think of Kuwait as a place where the streets are paved with gold and everyone wears Rolex watches; that’s a myth.  Yes, the COUNTRY is rich and takes excellent care of its citizens, but the PEOPLE are just like us.  While they do not have to pay taxes or worry about the cost of gasoline, they work hard to make a living.  They are lawyers, accountants, computer specialists, investment bankers, and business owners. If they decide to go out of the country to seek help for their children with disabilities, it’s on their own nickel.

Occupational therapy (OT) and speech-language pathology (SLP) are both emerging fields, with new master’s degrees just becoming available at Kuwait University.  Until the first classes graduate this year, like almost all other commodities, including food, cars and clothing, therapists are imported.

Multiple Disabilities

Few families have a single child with issues.  Because they live with large, loving, extended families, many homes have several children with delays, including autism, Down’s and some rare genetic syndromes I never heard of.  Obviously the chemical soup from the Gulf Wars, unknown viruses and bacteria, and combinations of heavy metals including depleted uranium, mercury and who knows what else, tweaked their genes in a unique way. I could not help but wonder if the deer tick that carries Lyme disease has a cousin who lives in date palms. Add an incomprehensible vaccination schedule that starts with tetanus shots for the pregnant mother at the fifth and seventh month, a hepatitis B shot at birth for the baby, and monthly boosters containing up to ten pathogens, and you have an immunological nightmare!

And the pattern of birth order defies everything we thought we knew about “toxic load.”  The first couple of children may be neuro-typical, then one or more with autism, and then a couple more without delays.  We also saw many females with disabilities.  What’s that all about? Are estrogen levels low?

Parents Everywhere Have the Same Concerns

Our conference attracted over 100 parents and professionals who carefully wrote out questions and waited over an hour to query us in person. “Will my child ever lead a ‘normal’ life?”  “How can I calm my two non-verbal adult sons with autism sufficiently so they can fly out of the country?”  “How can I stop my son from masturbating?”  “Two of my five children have autism and my wife is pregnant.  How can I prevent my new baby from becoming autistic?” I really struggled to find solutions that were compatible with Kuwaiti culture, religious beliefs and family values.

Center 21

Lamia and Nabil and their friends are extremely concerned about what their son will do all day now that he has no school, no program, nothing to get up for in the morning.  So they took the bull by the horns and petitioned the government for help. After a year of hard work, Center 21 was born. Kuwait is no different than the rest of the world, where those babies born at the beginning of the autism epidemic are turning 21 this year. The need is prodigious.

Center 21 will launch this summer with a small camp of a dozen or so individuals who have autism, cerebral palsy and variety of other special needs. It will gradually grow to 30 or so, and in the fall be housed in a villa. By 2013, hopefully it will expand to accommodate 100, and relocate to a renovated school building.  Hiring will begin soon for bilingual Arabic-English speaking special educators, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and recreational therapists.

While no statistics exist on numbers who are aging out of schools, the plan is to serve 1000 young adults with special needs by 2015 on a lively mall-like campus that includes villas, shops, cafes, a medical center, therapy rooms, art studios, a sports complex and more.  A huge undertaking?  You bet!  And if anyone can accomplish this enormous feat it is these dedicated, determined parents!

For now my team’s job is to help the Kuwaitis understand the relationships between health, sensory processing and behavior.  I think if we can accomplish that, our work will be rewarded by seeing these beautiful young adults become more functional.

Next Steps

I cannot wait to set up a testing program to evaluate, identify and prescribe treatments for the underlying biomedical issues. Thyroid problems, vitamin D, essential fat and other nutritional deficiencies are clearly rampant.  We have already started working with Great Plains Laboratory and New Beginnings Nutritionals in this regard.  A Kuwaiti pharmacy is prepared to import whatever supplements are necessary to treat underlying problems.

I hope to return to Kuwait in the fall, as the Kuwaiti’s say often, “In sha Allah.” Lamia, Nabil and their extended families were such generous hosts. We parted in tears with promises to stay in touch.  Putting together a team of developmental vision experts is my next goal.  Some lenses, prisms and simple visual therapy activities can make a HUGE difference for these young adults.  I believe we can “buy” 10-15 IQ points with these measures that take stress off the nervous system and free up energy for other functions.   Is it too late?  Never!

I am heartened by one touching “thank you” I received from a father, who told us that all he wanted was for his 21-year-old daughter to be happy.   “You taught me so much, and believe me, if I had the chance, I would be your house boy to learn from you. Friends come into our lives and go out of our sight, but they are always in our hearts.  You will be always with us here in Kuwait. You are a second family and country, and if you are in this part of the world again, please come and see us.”

It doesn’t get much better than that!

Treat the Child Not the Diagnosis

August 16, 2010

 

The first photos arrived. The baby didn’t look “quite right.”  But all newborns are “funny-looking,” I told myself.  Don’t be an alarmist.  Keep your mouth shut, Patty!

A long career diagnosing kids’ issues; this one was really hard.  I have known the parents and grandparents of this infant for many years.  Nope, just be quiet.

He’s now three months old; the family is coming for a visit.  Wow, I’ll have an opportunity to get a closer look. I take a deep breath and enter the house. He’s very cute in an unusual way.  A little agitated; maybe he just woke up.  His parents try to calm him; not an easy job.  Bouncing seems to help.  

Can I hold him?  Sure.  I look into his pale blue eyes.  They appear to be wiggling back and forth.  A nystagmus?  Maybe.  Not a good sign.  I try hard to get eye contact. I make goofy faces, crazy sounds, dangle my keys in front of his face.  No response.  I hand him back to his daddy. 

Back home, I wonder, “What’s going on here?”  Vision is something I know more than a little bit about.  Why are his eyes wiggling?  I should be able to engage a three-month- old easily.

Maybe Goggle can help.  I type in a few key words.  There it is, in a nano-second: a diagnosis of a rare congenital anomaly.  All the symptoms are present.

Do they know?  The father and both paternal grandparents are physicians.  Of course they must know suspect something.  Or do they?

Now I have an ethical dilemma. I recognize the need to move quickly, know the importance of early intervention. If therapies start NOW, this little guy has a chance to maximize his vision and other abilities. 

With whom do I share my concerns? Maybe a loving great aunt, who supports my work. Perfect! She relates my perhaps premature diagnosis to her brother, the other grandfather   Now the dilemma is his.  He calls the doctor grandfather. No, he has not heard of this particular pathology, but he will ask his friend the ophthalmologist.  

A call back.  No, the diagnosis is faulty, because the baby has no nystagmus. What was it I saw, then?  Maybe it was intermittent, occurring only when he was tired.

Sit tight.  Baby boy goes for his four-month check-up.  The pediatrician has some serious concerns. He sees a nystagmus, makes grave conjectures about its source: a brain tumor?

Off to a pediatric ophthalmologist.  In another nano-second, my Google diagnosis is confirmed.  Prognosis unknown.  What to do now?  Wait and see!  Return in three to six months.  WHAT?  Waste valuable time.  Not acceptable!

The calls and emails begin.  First the grandfathers. How many cases of this rare condition have I seen?  NONE!  How did I diagnose it then? 

Google!  Then the grandmothers.  How did I know? I saw a baby with symptoms that I didn’t like. Are there any experts nearby who can help? Yes, I know two special people in the same town where they live!

Treat the child, not the diagnosis!  For over 40 years, that has been my mantra.

First stop, a developmental optometrist. Both eyesight and vision can be elicited with lights and other novel instruments.  Visual stimulation jump-starts some movements. She offers a positive prognosis, and a home program of visual, motor, and other sensory stimulation. Within a short time, he is responding with laughter and relatedness.  Great signs!

Next stop, a reflex expert.  Another home program. Keep stimulating his reflexes passively. Give him lots of “tummy time.” Within  a few days he can almost turn over. 

More calls.  The parents relate their gratitude and grief.  Instead of “wait and see” they now have hope and an action plan. They’re “on the case.” Not the scenario they planned, but one they can handle. In addition to the private experts, they have connected with a multi-disciplinary early intervention center and their local school system.  Perfect!  I encourage lots of “tummy time” and movement.

Still many questions. How well does he see?  Would some lenses, prisms or highly controversial surgery help him? What about further testing? A genetic work-up? Nutrition?  He is still on only breast milk. Should it be supplemented?  Will he be okay cognitively?  These are all unknowns for now.    

Bottom line. The baby’s diagnosis is just a label. No matter what the name for his condition, I would have sent this young couple to the same two experts. No matter where they lived, I could refer them to top professionals.  All of us have the same goal:  treat possible causes, not symptoms.  Use a developmental, not pathological approach. Stay positive. Work with strengths to enhance weak areas. 

As they recover from the initial shock, they will most likely need some psychological support. They have a child with a diagnosis, a possibly devastating reality for high achievers. They don’t know as I do that this outcome is an opportunity for them and their family to learn and grow.  They are unaware of the miracles that can occur. I am grateful that they have the love, time, money and other resources to do everything possible. And to start at only four months.  What a luxury!

The Medicated Child

November 15, 2009

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PBS stations nationwide ran a documentary last week on FRONTLINE entitled The Medicated Child. Marcela Gaviria produced this piece in an effort to respond to the dramatic increase in the number of children with serious psychiatric diagnoses, including bipolar disorder. The program also was to focus on the one-size-fits-all treatment with untested pharmaceutical medications that doctors are prescribing for these children. 

According to child psychiatrist Dr. Patrick Bacon, trying medications on young children is really an experiment…a gamble… we do not know what’s going to work. I tuned in with great anticipation, hoping at last to see some expert reporting on alternatives to drugs, whcih can cause serious short-term reactions and unknown long-term effects.  What I saw instead were many sick kids with black circles under their eyes, obvious vision problems and nutritional deficiencies that no one was talking about!

The trailer promised that the producer would “confront psychiatrists, researchers and government regulators about the risks and benefits of prescription drugs for troubled children.”  Yet this film and its doctor experts offered few alternatives.   

The Parents’ Guide written by Harvard Medical School child psychiatrist Joshua Sparrow to accompany the documentary “provides background on the issues associated with treating a child with psychiatric medications.”  Unfortunately, it too falls short of giving parents and teachers any practical alternatives. 

In the section entitled Observing, Describing and Understanding Your Child’s “Out-of-Control” Behavior, Sparrow offers several bullet points.  I reproduce them here with my edition of the type of information I wish he had provided.

  • Warning signs – Early risk factors for behavioral and learning issues include:
    • Missed developmental steps, such as no crawling  
    • Repeated infections, such as strep, ear infections
    • Skin problems, such as eczema and serious diaper rash
    • Chronic diigestive problems, such as reflux, diarrhea or constipation
    • An eye turn, called a strabismus
    • Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory stimulation such as lights, sounds and touch
  • Triggers – All behaviors are reactions to something in the environment. Common triggers are:
    • Foods. Some kids’ digestive systems react to popular foods, such as dairy products, gluten (the protein in wheat and other grains), eggs, chocolate and soy.  In babies who have any of the above digestive warning signs, food is suspect.  The reaction may not be immediate.  I watched one child gradually dissolve an hour after a lunch of pizza and milk. 
    • Food additives. Artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, such as BHT cause behavioral issues in susceptible kids.  The Feingold Association has known this for years and is available to help.  Excitotoxins, such as fluoride, MSG and aspartame can all cause behavioral and psychiatric problems.
    • Pesticides and cleaners.  Many kids react to products used to exterminate bugs and eliminate bacteria.  Behavioral issues are more common on Mondays than any other day, due to schools being cleaned on Friday and closed up all weekend.
    • Chemicals from carpets, paints and other building materials.  Any building with new construction or renovation is suspect.  Formaldehyde from new cabinetry, fabrics and carpets can set off many kids.  The fumes from new paint are also toxic. 
    • Perfumes and air fresheners.  Some people become literally psychotic from breathing the artificial smells from these products. 
    • Contexts, settings – The cafeteria and playground are common “meltdown” arenas.  Why?  Because of the noise levels, bright lights in the former and possible mold, sprays and pollen in the latter.  I know one boy who acted out every time he went to the “reading room” where the teacher had placed a lovely, toxic, area rug.  Everyone thought he hated reading.  What he hated was the rug, and when it was removed, he was fine!
  • Symptoms – Symptoms are very individual and sometimes subtle. Doris Rapp, MD has been an expert on this for many years.  Some kids go into meltdowns.  Others may get spacey, talk too loudly, put their hands over their ears, stomp their feet, run in circles, scream, cry, kick, self-stimulate, throw things.  Some may be seeing double, become unfocused, stare out the window, look “depressed,” get sleepy, blink, look out of the corner of their eyes, fiddle with their clothes, masturbate, mouth objects. Any and all of these symptoms must be looked at diagnostically, rather than as behaviors to extinguish. 
  • Aftermath – Timing, frequency and recovery periods are crucial to evaluate. Keeping good records will help in the Sherlock Holmes process of pinpointing and eliminating triggers. 
  • Effect on overall functioning – Environmental reactions can interfere with a child’s learning, social relationships, sports performance and consume a family’s emotional and financial resources. Make changes for all family members and the whole class rather than just for the behaviorally reactive child.   

Consider non-pharmaceutical alternatives

If only FRONTLINE had included these interventions:

  • Change the diet – Consider eliminating colors, flavors, preservatives, excitotoxins.  Learn about Feingold, the Body Ecology Diet, the gluten-free dairy-free (GFCF) diet
  • Up the nutrition with foods and supplements – Add essential Omega 3 fats such as cod liver oil and flaxStudies show conclusively that good quality fats are efficacious alternatives to drugs
  • See an occupational therapist (OT) – Have the child evaluated for sensory integration problems by a private therapist who can pinpoint underlying reflex integration issues, tactile defensiveness, vestibular dysfunction or auditory processing problems.  Sensory-based OT can program the nervous system to respond in a more balanced way.
  • See a developmental optometrist (OD) – Make sure the two eyes are working together as a team and that the brain is giving proper meaning to what it sees.  With an eye turn, depth perception is impossible. Sometimes eye turns occur only intermittently and must be diagnosed by an expert.  Therapeutic lenses and vision therapy that includes activities to help the eyes and brain work better together can alleviate behavioral and learning issues.

Congratulations to FRONTLINE for recognizing the serious risks medications for bipolar and other disorders pose. We heartily  agree with them that research and insurance coverage for non-medication treatments are under-funded, and recommend that treatments such as these deserve further investigation.    

We can also concur that the forty-fold increase in the number of children and adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder over the past 10 years might be due to preventable causes. The simultaneous increase in environmental toxins, reliance on technology such as computers and television, and changes in food nutrient contents and genetic engineering are just a couple of obvious areas to    consider.

Thank you to the parents who took the time to tell their own stories of drug horrors and success with the Feingold program, naturopathy and other “natural’ solutions.  Add yours!  Maybe one day PBS will give us a useful commentary on how to prevent and help kids without drugs.  I sure hope so!  In the meantime, you can find out about more therapies that work in my book EnVISIONing a Bright Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dialog in the Dark: Your Senses Will Never be the Same

October 22, 2008

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During a recent visit to Atlanta my family and I toured the amazing exhibit “Dialog in the Dark,” already viewed by thousands in 22 countries and over 130 cities throughout the world.  It’s the most interesting show you will never see.

In this ground-breaking exhibition, a visually impaired guide leads participants who are fitted with canes, on a journey through a series of darkened galleries created to replicate everyday experiences. Without familiar sight clues, visitors learn to “see” in a completely new way with their non-visual senses.

This truly remarkable, life-changing journey includes experiencing a garden, grocery store and restaurant, all without eyesight.  My brother, mother and I smelled the flowers, shopped for vegetables, and bought beverages, all in pitch-black. We were forced to feel, touch, smell, listen and use our muscles and joints for information because our eyes simply perceived no light.

As many of you know, I have been interested in vision for over 20 years.  This extraordinary experience, which deprived me of my dominant sense, was extremely challenging and informative.  At first I strained and stretched my eyes, trying to make sense of life without light.  Finally, I found that closing my eyes gently was the best way to tell my brain to stop trying to process this sense. Soon after I closed my eyes, I was astounded to find myself rocking back and forth.  Clearly, my brain needed some movement sensation to stay alert in the total darkness.

With my eyes closed, and my body rocking, I was finally able to concentrate on the other senses.  I felt the ground change from grass (in the garden) to concrete (in the grocery store) to carpet (in the restaurant).  My guide helped me use my hands instead of my eyes to choose groceries, find money to pay for my purchases, and to listen to my working senses that gave clues to where I was in space.

I knew I depended upon my eyesight heavily; taking it away left me seriously impaired. However, more than ever, I was keenly aware of the difference between eyesight and vision.  Even though I could not “see,” I was “seeing” in my mind’s eye by using touch, hearing and movement. I could “see” the slope of the ramps, the shape of the vegetables, the blooms on the plants.  What an amazing human brain that can turn sensory experiences into visual images!

Know anyone in Atlanta?  Visiting there any time soon?  Be sure and check out “Dialog in the Dark.” According to the brochure, “it’s an experience certain to awaken your senses, challenge hidden prejudices, and deepen self-awareness by breaking through stereotypes to promote respect and tolerance in an engaging and lighthearted way.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Go to www.DialogTickets.com to see where else to view this traveling show. Anyone interested in those with disabilities, and students of all ages should be required to experience this hour-long trip that lasts a lifetime.

Radio Interviews – Listen in!

July 31, 2008

I have just completed three radio interviews about my new book EnVISIONing a Bright Future. What fun it is being on the “other side” of the table after a year as interviewer on Autism One Radio.  It’s amazing how much you can fit into a half hour with a good show host.  I was fortunate to be interviewed by the BEST!

First was on May 28th, with DC area nutritionist, Dana Laake, a long time DDR supporter and friend.  Dana’s show, “Essentials of Healthy Living™” is broadcast live Wednesday nights 5-6 pm on 1260 AM in the Washington, DC area.  If you are not in range, you can listen online at www.progressivetalk1260.com . This show is sponsored by The Village Green Apothecary in Bethesda, MD, another long time friend of DDR. Look in your new 2008 DDR Directory, which you should receive next week, for a discount coupon for nutritional supplements from the Village Green.  They also have copies of my book for sale. To listen to my interview, click on http://ehlradio.com/ArchivedShows/Index.htm

On July 9th, I was jointly interviewed by Chiropractor Larry Bronstein and Special Educator, Deborah Alecson, of CHILD Treatment and Consulting Services, on WBCR, 97.7 FM in Great Barrington, MA for their program, “Food For Thought: Children, Nutrition and Learning.”  We had a lively hour-long discussion of the various treatment options described in my book.  Since the station does not archive shows, I have the program on a CD.  As soon as I figure out how to upload it, I will put the link here.

For the above two interviews I simply dialed a phone number, and was magically broadcast live on the airways.  For my third interview, on July 23rd, I drove to Pittsburgh’s South Side to the studios of the Radio Information Service, a radio reading service for people with visual and physical disabilities.  There I was greeted warmly by Marilyn Egan, the host of ‘Towntalk,” who fitted me with a microphone and showed me how to use the “cough box,” should I feel the urge.

I had met one of the show’s co-producers, Joyce Driben, at a Disabilities Awareness Fair at PNC Park one beautiful evening in June, when the Pittsburgh Pirates honored individuals with all types of disabilities. Sight-impaired, Joyce had used a special machine to write down my phone number in Braille, and had her co-producer Jeanne Kaufman call me to set the date for my interview.  Radio Information Service (RIS) has been reading all types of print materials from newspapers to magazines, advertisements, books, death notices, and even TV listings to people with eyesight loss due to many causes for over 30 years. Qualified listeners can tune in for a small fee.  To listen to Joyce’s targeted interview of me, go to www.readingservice.org Click on “Listeners” and log in with the User Name: volunteer, and the Password: guest05.  Then click on Towntalk to hear the archived show.

I thank all those who have made these interviews possible and would be happy to do any others.  Please let me know if you have access to other opportunities.

My Book is Here!

June 5, 2008

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The doorbell rang.  With great expectation, I opened the door, knowing it was UPS delivering a single copy of my newly published book, EnVISIONing a Bright Future: Interventions that Work for Children and Adults on the Autism Spectrum.  Patricia Lemer receives a copy of her bookI was shaking, I was so excited. Recalling the event brings tears to my eyes.  After 5 years, this project is finally reality!

Books are available now.  In the meantime, go to the link above to get some details about the book, but please buy it through DDR so we get our credit!  This is the ONLY guidebook you will need to choose the right therapies, learn about options and how to integrate and prioritize them.

Many heartfelt thanks to my 23 contributors, all experts in their fields.  They are the names you know in nutrition, diet, sensory, vision, motor, language, sound, vaccines, and every other area related to autism and related disorders.

Choosing an Eye Doctor

April 2, 1998
A parent recently asked why I recommended that her child be examined by an optometrist rather than an ophthalmologist. The answer comes from my understanding of these two eye care professions and my personal experience.Both types of eye doctors examine and prescribe glasses, diagnose and treat eye disease, and can evaluate how well a person uses the eyes together. However, each profession is unique. Ophthalmologists are trained to do surgery. I credit one with saving the eyesight of my daughter, who at age five, sustained an eye injury. Optometrists are schooled in the behavioral (or functional) aspects of vision. They are more apt to use lenses, prisms and vision therapy to enhance and improve function. These interventions often improve children’s academic and other abilities.

Eyesight and vision are not synonymous. Eyesight is the sharpness of the image seen by the eye. Vision is the ability to focus on and comprehend that which is seen. Research has shown that most children with special needs do not have eyesight problems, while many have visual dysfunction. If a child has motor delays, vestibular difficulties, or health problems, vision is often compromised.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children have vision examinations by six months. A good eye doctor can test many aspects of function at this young age and quickly effect changes with intervention. Most school vision screenings check only eyesight only at twenty feet, not at reading distance. They rarely tell us whether a child has a clear image at nearpoint or how the eyes work together. The only information they provide is whether a child can see the blackboard. Many vision problems thus go undetected when parents have false security and brag, “My kid’s eyes are 20/20!”

Vision is Learned: Vision, like reading, mathematics, and language, is learned. Giving meaning to what is seen begins at birth. In the developmental hierarchy, infants move without purpose, while their eyes learn how to work as a team, to sustain focus. Toddlers use movement to drive vision, such as shaking a rattle for its sound before looking at it. Finally, children can visualize without movement. Thus, for children to be successful in school, vision must purposefully direct their actions.

Vision Must Become the Primary Sense: We hear a great deal about individual learning styles. “My child is a kinesthetic learner,” a mother told me. She meant that her child is still using touch and movement to get information about the world. This learning style is more primitive than getting information visually. Well-functioning individuals store all types of sensory images and can visualize and retrieve them upon demand. They no longer need to touch and move to experience their world. Vision directs their thinking, organization, listening and actions. Vision Lays the Foundation for Language & Relationships: Vision plays a major role in language and social-emotional development. Children with language delays, attention deficits, pervasive developmental disorders and autism all have inefficient visual systems. If a toddler is not speaking or relating to others, a vision evaluation is essential.

A developmental optometrist can prescribe therapeutic and pleasurable activities to be done at home, during floor time, occup8tional and language therapy, or at day care. Combining the visual system with touch, movement, audition and social experiences benefits all areas. Begin Where They Are, a workbook designed by vision therapists and available through the DDR, has good ideas for pre-verbal children and toddlers.

Making the Right Choice: Scientific evidence indicates that interventions such as vision therapy, used by behavioral optometrists, work. The AOA publishes a monograph, The Efficacy of Optometric Vision Therapy, containing 238 references; it is available free of charge from the DDR. A number of organizations can help locate eye care professionals qualified to evaluate even the most difficult, non-verbal children. The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) certifies optometrists who satisfy strict criteria. The Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF) offers post-graduate education to optometrists and educates the public about vision. They dispense free information and can make referrals to clinical associates in your area.

If your child has developmental delays of any kind, choose to have all aspects of vision evaluated.

[New Developments: Executive Director’s Column, Spring 1998]