Greetings again, Readers of Cortical Chauvinism! It’s Tim Turner. Welcome to Part 2 in my series on vision therapy and autism. Part 1 is here (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2018/02/12/an-introduction-to-vision-therapy-and-autism/).
If you don’t know me, I am a 36 year old autistic man from Texas who is currently editing the manuscript of my upcoming book about my life with Asperger’s and how vision therapy has changed (and continues to change) my life. Vision therapy is a specialty within optometry that consists of physical exercises and the use of devices such as prisms that help with vision problems that are often present in autism. I don’t have a time frame for its release, but the manuscript is currently under science review.
My primary interests are Japanese animation (anime) and its comic book equivalent of manga. I also like languages and linguistics, computer science, developmental optometry, video game speedrunning and mindfulness. I have a bachelor’s degree in French, a master’s degree in French and a second master’s degree in applied linguistics.
Before I begin, let me report on the status of my book. The manuscript is being reviewed by Dr. Marc Taub, who is the editor-in-chief of the optometry journal Optometry and Visual Performance. This journal is a production of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF), a large optometry and vision therapy group within the United States. This is a very big step towards getting my book published and I am thrilled that my work is paying off.
A recent post by Dr. Casanova (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2018/04/30/autism-and-other-health-related-epidemics/) about health epidemics and autism stirred my recent memories of what I’ve been reading in the never-ending pursuit of perfecting my health. So I figured that it was time to write another guest post for this blog about the “epidemic” of poor posture and motor skills within the autism spectrum.
It’s very much a given fact that dyspraxia (poor motor control) is a huge part of autism, whether it be mild or severe. Reading scientific literature as research for my book enlightened me on the basics of motor control and autism, but my lived experience of being autistic shows the limits of medical and scientific understanding.
Peeling back the layers of the disability onion has been an incredibly long journey, and motor skills comprise the most difficult part of that journey. Why? Think about it. Autism affects the whole body. Vision is also a whole body phenomenon. If any part of the motor system is compromised, so is someone’s vision. This is turn, affects motor control even more. The result is a very powerful negative feedback loop that can be incredibly difficult to break, even for a mildly autistic person such as myself. This, in turn, has increased my empathy for the more severely disabled autistic people and their families that I have read about. It makes me realize that I can’t speak for every autistic person, even if a few of our problems overlap.
Anyways, to the main point. While I was doing more research for vision skill-building techniques, I happened to come across a vision trainer talking about a motor skills/posture training book called The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion by Pete Egoscue ( https://www.amazon.com/Egoscue-Method-Health-Through-Motion/dp/0060924306/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1527152347&sr=8-1&keywords=egoscue+method+of+health+through+motion ). Mr. Egoscue is a physical trainer who has worked with many people over the years, including Gerald Ford, a late former President of the United States. The exercises in that book are meant to restore flexibility, posture and the full range of motion in muscle groups and joints by reintroducing proper motor demand to them. It is mentioned throughout the book that modern life has made it to where people aren’t using the full range of their bodies like they used to in order to maintain healthy posture and motor control.
“It could, without exaggeration, be called a modern epidemic.” it reads on the rear cover. Those words rang true with me and the motor control problems I’ve have my entire life. Sure, it refers to mostly neurotypical people, but it’s even more glaring within the autism spectrum.
Mr. Egoscue’s exercises are playing a very important role in helping me build even better interoception. Although I have made incredible effort and eliminated my primary motor problems (such as my vestibular system disorder), I still have considerable problems with posture, which contributes to motor control that is pretty bad, but not as bad as having them combined with my vestibular problems. My remaining motor and postural problems are part of that neurological residue leftover from all of that.
After receiving the book about a month and a half ago, I read about three negative postural scenarios (he just calls them Conditions I, II, and III) that contribute to wear and tear on the body. Anybody can develop these and can also have a mix of elements from each of them. With persistent application of exercises for these conditions, one can advance to Condition IV, which is ideal posture and flexibility.
I determined that I was unconsciously twisting my hips, I decided to do the exercise set for Condition II. I then came to an exercise called “The Frog,” which is used to help stretch muscles in the groin and also settle the hips. It simply requires that one put the soles of one’s feet together so that the legs make a diamond shape. I had no problem putting the soles of my feet together, but my groin was so stiff that it quickly became sore. I quickly came to notice that I was forcefully holding my legs up in the air to avoid the soreness! I let my legs settle again, but I quickly noticed thanks to interoception that I was still forcefully lifting my legs again to avoid the soreness. I was subtly forcing myself to try to hold my legs in one position. I decided to let my body relax (without forcing it) and not forcefully fight any impulse to try and lift my legs or force my legs to remain in one position. I was straining to do the exercise and straining to hold my legs in a position that wasn’t comfortable, all because my muscle tone was somewhat off kilter. According to Mr. Egoscue, the reason that these exercises can make us feel sore is because we’ve developed motor habits that cause our muscles to take up habits they naturally weren’t meant for, such as hip flexor muscles doing the work for walking instead of the legs. Because of this, the muscles can weaken and lose function.
The Frog also helped me really feel the muscles in my feet for the first time! Even as my groin was feeling very sore, I felt my eyeballs becoming very soft. This is a very good thing, as modern people can have very bad visual habits that can harden the eyeballs (read about it here: https://www.wired.com/story/failing-vision-screens-blindness/). After I finished the Frog for the first time, my vision expanded as I got up from my lying on my back. I also temporarily experienced sharper vision and even better three-dimensional vision. They faded some after a while, so it will require even more therapy to make it all permanent. Something tells me that it will be worth it beyond my wildest expectations.
Other benefits I have been getting from the Egoscue exercises have been a much improved mood and knees that don’t ache all the time. As I mentioned in Part I, developing interoception through mindfulness allowed me to feel that I was tensing up my knees and tearing them apart. That alone has not been enough to prevent 100 percent of all the pain. Now that my hips are becoming better aligned, I’m not walking with my lower back, hips and gluteal muscles as much as I used to. I’m walking with my legs, as nature intended. As a result, my knees already feel dozens of times better than they used to. Posture and motor habits contribute to mental health, as well as physical health.
Speaking of mental health, the biggest benefit in the three weeks I have been practicing them in earnest has been an increased ability to stay calm under pressure. I am an incredibly sensitive soul and mindfulness has sometimes had trouble keeping my emotions in check. With better interoception comes a better ability to use mindfulness and meditation to help me unlock the potential of my brain. Better interoception has also been helping me recover from PTSD-related difficulties that have plagued me since my abuse ended in November 2010. I recently had another nightmare inspired by the abuse I endured, but found myself better able to process my thoughts and emotions without shutting down or going to sleep like I used to. I also managed to keep at bay the abuse-inspired post-traumatic panic attacks that followed over the next week that could have ruined my whole week. Instead, I made a sheet of activities to keep myself accountable as I finish what is needed for my 95% complete manuscript. While I was keeping myself concentrated on my tasks as best as possible, I had personal epiphanies about how to best move forward to make myself whole from my abuse.
I work on becoming whole again every day.
I will turn my life around.
That’s pretty much it. Physical exercise is important, but one must make sure that posture and flexibility are optimal before starting more rigorous exercise. In fact, Pete Egoscue has a list of exercises that are okay for certain negative postural scenarios in his book. Some can result in injury if posture isn’t right (like running or jogging contributing to knee problems).
Thank you all for reading! I am once again grateful to Dr. Casanova for hosting this guest post on his blog.
P.S. – Before I go, here are some further resources on vision therapy that you can check out for yourself.
College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) – https://www.covd.org/default.aspx
The COVD’s Autism Page – https://www.covd.org/page/Autism
Vision Development and Rehabilitation: The COVD’s Journal – https://www.covd.org/page/VDR?
Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF) – http://www.oepf.org/
OEPF’s Autism Page – http://oepf.org/Autism%20Readings
The OEPF’s Journal – http://www.ovpjournal.org/
Strabismus World, run by a non-autistic vision therapy patient in Belgium named Michael Lievens (entries are in English). I got the article on hardening eyeballs from him. – http://www.strabismusworld.com/