Faces In The LIght

This post is a project to see if I can describe what it is I see (and can’t see) clearly.  Would you please let me know with a comment if I was successful?  Thank you, Gail

When you look at a face you, most likely, see the entire face.  The details are clear: eye and hair color, nose, and ears all stand out as a part of the person.  You can tell who they are by how they appear to you.  You magically memorize things about this persons face so that the next time you see them you may recognize them.  That tiny computer in your head does the job it is meant to do.  You bring up their name and with it many other things regarding this person.  You can say that you know this person.  What if it doesn’t work in this manner? What if your brain or more specifically your eyes can’t process this information normally?

What if when you see someone you can’t recall or even memorize the face.  What if your software is not in working order?  What do you do then?  You are in the dark with this face even though there is plenty of light around the person.

When we are babies we begin developing facial recognition.  Our brains slowly discard the skills we will not need.  For instance humans need to see human faces vs. monkey faces.  As a baby you are capable of viewing and distinguishing all faces and you learn that because you don’t see monkeys every day the brain can now discard higher levels of monkey software because it won’t be using it much.  Knowing what a monkey looks like is good enough.  The brain has learned that it does need to focus on humans so that is where the brain will develop.  Now the brain needs to understand many things about human faces so the brain develops these skills.  By the time the person is a bouncy one year old the brain has a Doctorate in facial recognition.  BUT what if in the process of developing the brain there is damage and critical steps are not completed properly?  This is what happens when there is a lack of visual development.

What doesn’t work?

From this blog you know that I was born with cataracts (I had no light perception due to the clouded lenses) and that on my first birthday I was operated on and given sight in my right eye.  Six weeks later the left eye was also operated on.  The surgeon did a beautiful job!!!! So I was now a happy sighted one year old who is behind developmentally.

After the surgery I was given glasses.  At age 14 I began to wear contact lenses. At the present I wear only one lens due to the fact that my right eye is not able to be helped by the lens.  (The cornea is no longer the proper shape) While they could do some surgery it is a risk I am not willing to take.  Surgery would put me at risk for bleeds in my retina, which could lead to blindness in that eye.  So back to childhood….

The eye

Because there was no vision during the first year of my life several critical phases of development could not complete properly.  Muscles in my eyes failed to learn to strengthen themselves and the nystagmus (rapid eye movement) came about, I also did not develop full facial recognition during this time.  In later years the PXE ( http://www.pxe.org/)decided to contribute a bleed in the retina and lessen what vision I have.   This is why I have only 12% of my vision left. The percentage is a far better description of what I really see.  It isn’t about distance but rather about what I can really see in a comprehensive manner.  So if you have 100% of your vision and can see something easily chances are that most likely I’ll  have to blow it up and make it BIG or stand closer to the object.

What works?

How do I see things and how do I function best?   

When a visually impaired person enters a room they don’t really survey the room as you do.  They look for seating.  They do this because this is of great urgency for them.  This doesn’t mean that they will get the best seat: they get a seat.  After they have a seat they will then proceed to check the room out.  There is a problem with this process and that is that the person might not yield the best seat for their needs.  The best seat for me is a seat facing away from the window.  With my back to the window there is no glare for me to deal with.  This means that I can see lit faces instead of dark faces.  The best room is also well-lit with both ceiling lighting and lights that shine upwards.  The room should have no shadows.  The number I use is a combined total of 1500 lux.  The equation works out to 1250 from the ceiling and 250 upwards.  Warm light is better than cool lighting.  Those are the basics.

Seeing your face is important to me. I wish I could recognize you easily but for me the process is just that: a process.  For me to recognize you I need to spend time with you.  I’d say two or three hours will do.  I need to have those hours over a period of time.  Doing it all at once doesn’t get my brain to learn about you.  As I study your face I acquaint myself with who you are physically. After several hours I am better able to recognize you.

If you cut your hair, change your hair color, gain or lose weight I may not know you at first.  You will need to remind me who you are.  Think of it as having to do a software update.

The question of using the voice arises and the answer to this is that I can only depend on the voice as much as I hear.  So I use a combination of things.  Because I see better than I can hear (reliably) I use my vision to learn and understand and my hearing becomes the secondary sense involved.

I’ve shared a great deal of information with you.  I suspect that many of you out there will be wondering what do I do with this. What am I supposed to do when I’m around you? I’ll answer that with this: A simple kindness goes a long way towards true understanding. You can make sure that I recognize you. That is a great beginning.

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About Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

I am an American who is living in The Netherlands. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist with a license to practice in California. Music has been a huge part of my life. Singing is something you can find me doing at any time and anywhere. I have to admit that I try to not sing while out in public though. You can also find me in the kitchen cooking up wonderful things. cooking is something that I have just recently (in the last ten years) discovered that I'm talented at doing, and it is really fun. The best way to know me is to read my blog.
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2 Responses to Faces In The LIght

  1. Pingback: Life with PXE | A Gift of Being Heard

  2. Kathleen says:

    Thanks Gail! I didn’t know you couldn’t see until 1 year old. I became fascinated by this in child development after mom lost her vision. Especially lack of vision effects emotional development when someone doesn’t recognize facial expressions. Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing

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