Most of us are familiar with the true story of Helen Keller. She was born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Although born with sight and hearing, Helen was rendered blind and deaf by an illness at 19 months of age. Because of her disabilities, Helen did not develop typical language skills and by the age of six only had a rudimentary “home based sign language” of about sixty words. Fortunately Helen’s parents pursued means to help her develop and were eventually introduced to Anne Sullivan who began a process of teaching Helen to communicate. Over time Helen not only learned to communicate but was able to develop an understanding of her environment and thrive in it. So how did Helen Keller have good vision?
Vision is more than sight and acuity. It is the comprehensive ability to organize what is seen so that it can be understood. That understanding is then used to guide and direct one’s actions in an environment to achieve what is needed and/or wanted to survive and thrive. As Dr. Melvin Kaplin put it in his book Seeing Through New Eyes, “It is not just seeing clearly but obtaining meaning and understanding about what is seen.”
Vision is the brain’s ability to unify sensory information derived from our eyes, vestibular system (inner ear system responsible for balance and coordination), and proprioceptive system (sensory information from our skin, muscles and tendons). The sum total of the information creates a perceptual image of our environment that we use to visualize our intended movements and interactions. The visualization of our intended movements, interactions and activities in our environment precedes the action itself, even if we’re not necessarily aware of it. This is what Helen Keller was able to develop over time despite blindness.
Unfortunately not everyone fully develops their visual-perceptual abilities due to array of circumstances like neurological disease and injury, and vision related problems that stem from delayed or interrupted childhood development. The good news is that most of those whose vision did not develop optimally can be helped through developmental optometry and vision therapy. Developmental Optometrist, like Drs. Tod Davis and Amy Carlyle, can expertly diagnose and treat vision related problems. Their professional staff and Vision Therapist have been changing lives through vision therapy.
Helen Keller’s personal struggle and eventual triumph can be analogous to the struggles of anyone who has suffered from vision related problems and has undergone vision therapy. In particularly anyone who’s ability to create a perceptual image of their environment was impaired or never properly developed. Many vision therapy patients work hard and struggle to obtain the gift so many others take for granted the gift of vision. Helen Keller once wrote “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched … but are felt in the heart.” Or, it could be added, perceived in the mind.