Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fixing My Gaze - Can you imagine not having 3D vision?

I just read an inspirational book called Fixing My Gaze about neuroscientist, Susan Barry, who was born with strabismus (an eye turn) and had lived all her life without stereo vision, meaning that she could not see in three dimensions.

She had three surgeries to "correct" the eye turn cosmetically but she still could not see properly and the eye was still turned, although less than before. She had lived this way for over 40 years until she met optometrist Dr. Theresa Ruggiero.

Dr. Ruggiero treated Susan with vision therapy and corrected the eye turn and allowed her see in three dimensions for the first time in her life. Can you imaging how her world was transformed? I've heard rumors of a "Fixing My Gaze" movie but have not been able to confirm them.

Here is what Susan Barry said in an interview with Scientific American about how the world looked different after vision therapy:

"For the first time, I could see the volumes of space between different tree branches, and I liked immersing myself in those inviting pockets of space. As I walk about, leaves, pine needles, and flowers, - even light fixtures and ceiling pipes - seem to float on a medium more substantial than air. Snow no longer appears to fall in one plane slightly in front of me. Now, the snowflakes envelope me, floating by in layers and layers of depth. It's been seven years since I gained stereovision, but ordinary views like these still fill me with a deep sense of wonder and joy."

Our vision therapy practice includes many patients with strabismus but all of them are very young (obviously it is better to fix the problem when a patient is young to save her from living years with the condition).

Susan Barry's story is remarkable in that she was in midlife when she received vision therapy. The conventional wisdom, now being disproved by new studies, was that after the age of 7 or 8 , the brain could not be trained (or "rewired") to see in new ways. The old scientific thinking was that after early childhood, the brain became fixed. In fact, Susan Barry herself and other scientists thought that it was impossible for her to ever see in 3D.

Now, we know that the brain exhibits neuroplacticity and that given the proper behavioural therapy, even adults can rewire their brains. This has given hope to many people who did not receive treatment for visual processing disorders at a young age. Now it seems possible that even older patients with amblyopia or strabismus and other binocular vision disorders can benefit from treatments like vision therapy.

You can hear interviews with Susan Barry and read more about her story at her website: