My girls were laughing at me because it is dark outside and I am sitting at my laptop with sunglasses on. They asked me if I thought I looked cool and, as punishment, I gave them a lengthy and detailed biology lesson about how eyes work and pupil dilation and light sensitivity. You see, I was at the eye doctor’s a few hours ago and the effects of those drops she gave me still haven’t worn off. With these huge pupils, I would take off the sunglasses if I wanted to look cool.
I had never had an optical nerve exam before today - it was quite the experience. The doctor took this small cylindrical object and pressed one end of it up against my eyeballs. There was actual contact. I am feeling sort of . . . violated. But everything checked out, so I guess it was worth it.
This was my second successful eye exam in a row! A few months ago I had a regular checkup and - no lie – for the first time in my life, an eye doctor told me that my eyesight had improved a little. I almost started to cry.
Even at my very first appointment as a child, I did very badly in the eye examination and it has gone steadily downhill in all the years since. The funny thing is that my mother took me to that first appointment as an afterthought. My older brother had to go and my mom decided almost spur-of-the-moment to bring me along too. (It seems I had been coming home from school with migraine-type headaches. I was eight years old and my mom would find me after school lying on the couch with one arm draped over my eyes in the completely darkened living room.) No one suspected at that point that I didn’t see well. It turned out my brother got a normal strength prescription and I got the heavy-duty one.
I will never forget the car ride home from the optometrist with my first pair of glasses. I kept taking them off and putting them back on - comparing – amazed at how the world looked and how much detail there was! So many signs to read! How could I have been so blind! And so blind to it! The next day in school, the teacher went up to the board with a piece of chalk and . . . words appeared! Readable ones! I didn’t have to copy from my neighbor or walk up to the front of the class later to see them!
It is strange how - whatever your world is - you sort of assume it is normal. Sometimes there were little moments of epiphany in my life when I suddenly realized most people have a different experience than mine. Finding out how blind I had been was definitely one of those moments. Another came about 6 years later while sitting in the kitchen of my best friend’s house. Her mother was cooking dinner and then her father came in and they started a conversation. It occurred to me - no, it seemed to literally wash over me that . . . most people have two parents. It was my home situation that was not normal.
But back to the vision thing. Those first three years as a somewhat blind schoolchild turned me into an auditory learner, which I profited from for the rest of my education. The only drawback was how impatient I would feel watching teachers write sentence after sentence on the blackboard. I hated that. So boring and unnecessary! When I became a teacher myself, though, this was a definite weakness. I wrote very little on the board – and when I did, it was rushed and sloppy. It didn’t occur to me that the majority of learners are visual types and needed to see information too.
This finally came home to me in a multimedia seminar that I had to take for one of my jobs. It was supposed to help us deal with all the high-tech stuff in modern classrooms: you know, the overhead projectors and the tape recorders, the flipcharts and moveable bulletin boards . . . The seminar leader made a demonstration with the overhead projector: he put a foil on it and then turned it on for just a split second. Then he asked us what we had seen. He started at the other end of the room. ”I saw a man”, “I saw a glass”, “I saw something blue”, ”I saw a table” . . .
I hadn’t seen any of that! Just some phrases that I was able to piece together into a sentence in my mind and after the fact. When he got to me, I told him I saw the sentence ”What do you think of when you hear the word cocktail?” There was a momentary uncomfortable silence. He was clearly disappointed. He was so looking forward to pointing out that none of us had seen the words. Instead, he mumbled irritably, ”That happens once every 200 times!” Oops.
I discovered in that seminar that I am not visual. It is why I hated comics as a kid — because I only read the text and skipped right past all the colors and forms above or below the words. Without those visual clues, you can’t understand the text. But I was not the norm and most of my students were not like me. They needed the visual input. They needed to see as well as hear the words in order to understand them. After that seminar, I started adapting my materials and methods to all those visual learners. Like writing down and showing the assignments instead of just announcing them. Overnight, the number of students completing their homework seemed to double.
Once again – blind no more!