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Helping Children With Autism Focus on the World Around Them — COVD Supports Autism Awareness Month

Vision skills (there are 17 of them, by the way, with eysesight being only one of them) are the doors to learning! Inaccurate information coming in through the eyes = inaccurate information produced through the body and mind. Important information, as always, in this Vision Help Blog post.


a81d2f00d8fcc0e7_800x800arFor parents of children with Autism, it is a never ending quest to sort through all the different therapies that are available to help improve quality of life for those on the spectrum. For Autism Awareness Month, the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) is bringing awareness to the availability of optometric vision therapy and how it can positively impact those on the spectrum.
“I was always told my son, Cass (who was diagnosed with high functioning Autism in January 2014 when he was 9 years old) could see 20/20, so I didn’t even think that his vision could be contributing to his reading problems,” Penelope Massagee of Charleston, SC, shares; “You can imagine my surprise when I found out he was seeing double and that words looked like they were moving on the page. He must have thought it was normal, because he never complained!”
It is a…

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Columbus’ Final Journey

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day always started with a bang in my home town.  One very loud “kaboom” rang out each year at 10:00 to signal the community to troop their lawn chairs down to the city center for our yearly salute to  the discoverer.  Marching bands and clowns, floats and Vets – all streaming down South Main Street past the shops and the city park.  The popcorn and hot dog vendors were busy shortly after 11:00 conquering the hunger pangs of the early arrivals.  No one wanted to miss out on front row seats.  Columbus Day marked a significant event for our little town of Columbus, ME*, not only to honor our namesake, but to mark the beginning of Winter.  We are a realistic group of country folk who acknowledge the power that Mother Nature has over our town after the beginning of October.  But one year a few Octobers back, the weather and the Columbus Day parade took us on an unexpected and somewhat sad adventure.

The exact date eludes me but I’m guessing I was about 9 years old.  I know I was still young enough to look forward to floats and balloons, yet old enough to be roughhousing along the parade route to nearly have missed the tragedy.  The grand finale of our parade brought on sighs and smiles the likes of which you’d get when Santa arrives in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In his full regalia, Columbus “sailed over the ocean blue” as the biggest, most colorful balloon that a child could imagine existed!  In fact, in some years, it would remain a dream for us, much to our hearts’ dismay.  You see, if the Northeast winds swirled around us at a speed greater than 24 mph, then Columbus’ quest for the new lands would be postponed for another year.  Our elders, smart as they were, always kept the announcement of Columbus’ travel plans until the very last minute.  The playgrounds would rule over the parade ground if our hero wasn’t going to show up.  If the announcement was made, moms and dads would groan with dismay with their little ones; although, now that I’m a mom myself, I know that they were part of the ruse, as well.

But as we know from history, Columbus was a determined fellow.  During the parade of 1962, he proved it once again as he made the decision to venture toward new territory with little regard to the weather conditions.  I remember holding onto our hats and hugging our L.L. Bean sweaters close to our bodies to keep the wind at bay.  The temperatures had dropped overnight and the winds greeted us early that morning as we warmed our hands on mugs of hot chocolate.  Jerry, my older brother, grimly remarked, “I’ll bet there’s snow today.”  Big Jim, our dad, slowly shook his head and chuckled.  Even for Maine it was a bit early for that.  Little Maureen, with all of her six years of parade experience, posed the question that was on all of our minds.  “What about Columbus, daddy?  Will Columbus be at the parade if it snows?”  Big Jim took this question a bit more seriously, scratching his beard as he answered, “Well, Maurry, I truly cannot tell.  Columbus is a brave sailor and he always waits until the very end of the parade to plan his route.  I reckon we’ll just have to wait and see.”  Just then a sound much like a whining baby swept in through the window alerting us to the whirling winds outside.  But this reminder of a possible weather cancellation for Columbus didn’t dash our hopes as we hauled our chairs, blankets, and thermos bottles full of hot cocoa with marshmallows to the station wagon.

Our concern over Columbus was short-lived as the clowns brought out giggles and laughter with their crazy antics and hats flying off with the wind.  Uncle Stew caught one and wore it until the rosey-faced clown on the pink tricycle came to retrieve it.  The drum majorettes had donned black pants under their “flippy skirts” and mom remarked that they should have worn coats as well.  My trails took me toward the end of the parade, as Casey, Sandy, and I made a valiant attempt to stay warm by keeping on the move.

Inevitably the moment of decision came, as it always did, directly after the American Legion marched by with the American Flag.  This year it whipped back and forth, with Sandy’s granddad holding tightly to the pole.  Jerry was so sure that our Discoverer wouldn’t make his trip that year that he was on his feet and gathering his trash as the flag was only just past him.  That was my signal to fall in behind him and get back to the station wagon.  But, the hush that came over the crowd turned me around for just one more look at the parade and there he was rounding the corner.  Columbus has made the trip!  Suddenly feeling much warmer and willing to remain parade watchers, we hailed his arrival with cheers and clapping.  The noise was thrilling, giving me a delightful feeling in my chest.  For a moment, that is.  Just as soon as it arrived at the grandstand, the Santa Maria railed back on a surf of wind, spun to its left in a struggle to right itself, and broke loose of its moorings.  In what seemed like a no more than a second, it came crashing to shore just a few feet from Mr. Mooney, our oldest Legionnaire.  The cheers gave way to gasps as we watched a scene that could only be described as a historical nightmare.  The sails hugged the ground as they were dragged side-to-side by their team of handlers.  The ships bow crumpled into a fan, pushing forward into the crowd, dragging Columbus along Main Street toward his final discovery.  Soon the gasps became sobs and parents hurriedly gathered up their children in protective hugs, themselves speechless as they witnessed the final ending to their childhood Columbus Day parade memories.

Early December continued to unveil stray parts and snatches of polyurethane, most of them finding their way on the wind to the rear of Mrs. Maxwell’s coin laundry.  It was never clearly determined who had cleaned up the remains of our dear Columbus.  And the remains of many happy childhood memories.




*With all due respect, this humble story is purely fictional and in no way associated with the real Columbus, ME.

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August 6, 2014 · 2:35 pm

Lime Wedge




Marjorie put the dishtowel on the rack with a purpose and spun around to face me and the emotional mess I’d created.  Another minute crawled by as she honored me with her “I can’t hold it down anymore” stare.  I knew I deserved her wrath.  I knew I did.  But my innate need to always be right kicked into gear before the lid blew off.

“You must see that it’s the only way for us to go, don’t you?”

Eyes narrowing.

Don’t you?”

Teeth clenching.

“Oh, come on!  Let’s clean up this kitchen and get dressed.  We’ll go out on the town to think about it.”

Mouth drops open.  She’s about to speak….

No, no.  Don’t say anything until you’ve had a shower and a change of clothes.  Then we can talk.”

Marjorie was always a tough sell.  But I was trying my darndest  to sway her tempermental side into believing I was right.  I’m thinking I’ve nearly done it, when…


Off the cutting board she grabs a handful of lime wedges.  Wedges that we’d planned to pop into our beer bottles like the kids down at Teddy’s bar.  Wham!  She throws one at me, eye glinting with evil and her mouth set with determination.


Wham!  Wham!  One in the head.  One in the chest.  Lime wedges are sinister projectiles.

Ducking down behind the counter, I palm the wedge that clocked me in the temple and steady myself for the next round.

Silence.  What was going on up there?  I sneak a peek upward and just begin to push off my knees to catch a glimpse over the counter when I feel something wet and sticky coming at me from the right.

There she was, lying on the floor, round the edge of the counter, shooting lime squirts at me with both hands!

I roll to my left, prime myself for a return attack, and…

she’s gone.

“Aw, come on, Marjorie!  Let’s stop this nonsense and clean this place up!  What do you say?  Huh?”

More silence.  More than I can stand, actually.  This was killing me.  Why doesn’t she SAY something?  Okay, I’ve decided that I’ve had enough.  I grab the dishtowel and stand up.  Waving it in the air, begging for a truce.

“Uh, Marj…” I begin my plea.

And there she is, smiling at me with a lime wedge in her teeth!

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April 15, 2014 · 7:02 pm

What do handwriting and optical illusions have in common?

waveillusion science bob

Image Credit:  Science Bob

Optical illusions fascinate us with the tricks they play on our visual system.  Combinations of angles, contrasts, and geometrical shapes have the power to confuse our brain into thinking that stationary objects are moving and that flat images have 3-D qualities.  The information received through our eyes competes with the data we have stored in our brains in an attempt to make “sense” of what we are viewing.    The past struggles with the present in order to assimilate the information that we are seeing and square it with what we have previously seen.  When the brain has difficulty matching what it knows to be true (or has learned from experience to be true) with what we are looking at, it tends to take on a leadership role in transforming the scene into what it “should be.”  Hence, static and straight lines become moving, curved ones.   Susana Martinez-Conde, Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ, defines visual illusions as “the dissociation between physical reality and subjective perception of an object or event.”  It appears that when we view an optical illusion, we are experiencing “the ways in which the brain can fail to recreate the physical world.”

The brain’s re-creation of the physical world begins the day we are born – the first time we set our eyes upon a physical object.  Our first sighting may be blurry and limited to a Perfect vision Child's Eyesface, but the information that we obtain from it becomes part of our visual memory.  As newborns, however, we suffer from too many disorganized visual cortex connections, “which must be carefully pruned, based upon visual experience, into crisply defined columns.”  Less is more in the case of our development of fine detail and shape and pattern recognition skills.  Vision skills ranging from color and form perception, to face and object recognition, and to motion and spatial awareness are strongly influenced by “expectations based on past experience.”   Vision is the dominant sense in the acquisition of approximately 75-80% of what we learn and is a powerful force for how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.  It is this very power, however, that can lead the brain to incorrectly “see and respond to the visual world,” as it is drawn into misperceptions while it attempts to match what it knows with what it sees.  While visual perception plays a key role in the misperception of an optical image – resulting in an optical illusion, it also maintains a significant place in the mastery of handwriting skills.  “From the detection of light and dark in the retina, to the abstraction of lines and edges…to the interpretation of objects and their spatial relationships in higher visual areas, each task in visual perception illustrates the efficiency and strength of the human visual system,” and its vital link to handwriting mastery.

In order to appreciate the mystery of optical illusions and their visual perceptual link to handwriting skills, we must begin with the one fundamental necessity for efficient handwriting – automaticity.  Virginia Berninger, in her paper “The ‘Write Stuff’ for Preventing and Treating Disabilities,” identifies handwriting automaticity as “a strong predictor of the quality of composition in normally developing and disabled writers.”  Automaticity, in this context, is defined as the ability to correctly produce letters memory dr masonwithout having to consciously think about them.  When a writer can do this quickly, “memory space is freed up for higher level composing processes, such as what to write about, what to say and how to say it.”   Automaticity does not develop automatically, however.  It is heavily dependent upon guided handwriting instruction and practice.   As a student delves into the world of shapes, letters, and words, he begins to develop the visual perceptual skills that he will need for automatic writing.   The lines, angles, and curves that form letters begin to transform into communication tools in his long-term memory, ready for retrieval and storage into his short-term visual memory for use in writing quickly, legibly, and creatively.  The writing process from start to finish – from scribbling as a toddler to fluent handwriting skills – is a complex one that involves a myriad of strengths.  Physical, cognitive, and visual skills lay the foundation for automaticity…and the ability to see into the future.

Dr.Mark Changizi, in his book, The Vision Revolution, compares our ability to think about the future with our ability to see the future.  Thinking about what will or might happen tomorrow is reflective of words and sentences coursing through our thoughts.  Sometimes we get it right and other times quite wrong.  Dr. Changizi states that, “visual perception is just a special variety of mental processes, one that leads to seeing rather than sentences running through your mind.”  He describes the visual system as one that creates “a perception that represents the way the world should look in the future” and that we must concede that it sometimes will get it wrong.  Optical illusions are an example of a misperception resulting from our brain trying to predict the future.  But he cautions us against worrying that these misperceptions are the result of faulty brain-vision designs.  Instead, he presents his theory that they are “useful fictions” and actually have a purpose in guiding our behavior as we interact with our world (as in the case of “filling in the blanks” when we can only see a portion of a familiar object).  Misperceptions occur when the object or event that we are perceiving “does not compute” with our experience of how that object should look or how the event should play out.  The brain steps in to make it right by rearranging the facts a bit, encouraging a match with a memory byte it has stored from the past.  This makes for great fun with optical illusions; but in the case of handwriting automaticity, “useful fictions” serve a more important function as they guide a writer’s behaviors by “filling in the blanks” for letters and words.

theLetterHinkblot2As we are composing or copying written material, we can’t wait around for the brain to figure out what is wrong and to make adjustments.
When a writer begins to form the letter “H” starting with the first vertical line, he must already KNOW that the next two lines are another vertical and a horizontal link.  As he writes, the information he produces matches his perception of the letter in his stored memory and he can quickly move on to the next letter.  In reverse, if he sees a vertical line with a short horizontal line extending from the middle right side of it, he will quickly form the letter “H” in his mind’s eye, allowing him to read or reproduce it.  No matter the font,   an “H” is an “H” according to his visual perception!

In all cases, he is seeing into the future.

 Our visual perceptual skills are in a constant state of motion.  Neuroscientist Mo Costandi stresses that we do not see the world as it actually is.  Instead, he contends that “our perception of the world is the brain’s best guess at what is actually happening based upon the information it receives through the senses.”   Movement is a key component in learning as it engages the senses, particularly our vision.   As we learn through the experience of our bodies’ movement – from our trunks to our fingers – while they travel through space, we begin to understand how our bodies work and how they interact with the other objects in our environment.  This is vital to our development of directional concepts and spatial awareness.  These are not only critical skills for navigating physically through our lives, but they form the foundation for handwriting mastery.    Movement continues to play a significant role in our perception of the world as we use the skills we have learned.  Dr. Changizi stresses that we cannot “simply sit back and wait for the world to tell us what’s happening.”  Life, indeed, would be passing us by, both figuratively and literally.  Our visual perceptual skills need to be focused and engaged as we anticipate “the next moment and build a completed perception of it by the time it arrives,” moving with the moment – or at least a tenth of a second behind it.  (I suggest you turn to page134 in Dr. Changizi’s book for this!)   Handwriting mastery – not simply the learning of handwriting – begins when a writer can anticipate the next movement of his hand in the production of letters before he is required to perform it.  Letter recognition, automaticity, and creativity demand that we remain one step ahead of our visual perception, staying clear of misperceptions.

children at chalkboard
Unlike optical misperceptions, there is no illusion to handwriting mastery – it’s all very visible, indeed.

Photo Credit and interesting handwriting article at this link:  Law School Ninja

(Photo credit for the beautiful child’s eyes:  Perfect Vision )

(Photo credit for the colorful Stages of Memory:  The Memory Dr. )

(Photo Credit for the lovely fonts:  Inkblot Paper Designs )

Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who owns and operates a clinic that specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills.  She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.


 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Handwriting With Katherine website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter page, Pinterest page; the Wellness For Life:  Cape Cod blog; or any other social media is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors of these links/posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.

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November 16, 2013 · 1:24 pm

Just Getting Started!

Hello!  Please be patient with me as I get my newest venture up and running!  In the meantime, please visit my Facebook Page and my Twitter Account.  Thanks!

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