The following is a book review that will appear in the summer issue of Vision Development & Rehabilitation. I received a copy of The Fantastic Elastic Brain in the mail a few days ago from its author, and was so excited to see how well it promotes Optometry, Vision Therapy, and COVD that I couldn’t wait to share it! For the $17 investment, you’ll want to add at least one copy to your in-office library.
Sitting among the attendees at a seminar I gave in California in April was a pleasant woman who seemed very knowledgeable about vision. She had an answer, and usually very good answers, for every open-ended question tossed out to the audience. During the morning break she came up and introduced herself: “Hi, I’m Betsy Schooley, and I have regards for you from Dr. Gina Day and Dr. Maureen Powers.”
Betsy is a fascinating individual, and her experiences working with Dr. Day and Dr. Powers figure prominently in this superb new book, oriented primarily toward parents and teachers. The book’s preface provides her background, which begins with her teaching career in 1970. During her forty-four year stint, Betsy taught in almost every grade, kindergarten through eight working in California’s Bay Area.
A series of personal challenges that she details led Betsy to coursework in a quest to better understand her own brain and learning style. As she observes, she only wishes she had the wisdom of her post-retirement teaching career back when she was in the classroom. The path that she follows leads her to different courses and programs, some of which you may be familiar with. The first is the Structure of Intellect (SOI) Systems, through which she ultimately became a trained provider. The second is the work of Dr. Frank Belgau, a pioneer in the application of visual-motor therapy equipment with emphasis on balance and movement. Many developmental and rehabilitative optometrists are familiar with his Balametrics program. The third program that was key in her evolution as a therapist revolved around primitive and postural reflex testing and remediation.
Initially opening her own office in 2004 structured around these programs and packaged as “Brain Ways”, Betsy moved to Guatemala to help low income families there. One child who had multiple visual issues traveled to Florida to undergo optometric vision therapy, which triggered Betsy to learn more about the field. In 2009 she returned to California and began to work with two optometrists who sparked her great interest in and love for the field. She split her optometric time between working as a vision therapist for Dr. Gina Day at Larkspur Landing Optometry, and for Dr. Maureen Powers doing school-based testing and remediation through Gemstone Foundation. In 2009 she attended practitioner training courses at Integrated Listening Systems (iLs), adding that to her multimodal repertoire.
As Betsy writes, this book is a culmination of her personal, teaching and private practice experience. She studied, she learned, she tried things on kids and they worked. The positive results that her clients experienced inspired her to share her approach to rewiring the brain. Chapter 1 describes the influence of Carla Hannaford’s implementation of Brain Gym, an educational kinesiology program assembled by Paul Dennison in Southern California. Dennison, by the way, acknowledges the significant influence that behavioral and developmental optometrists had on his methodologies. The core of what Betsy describes in Chapter 1 revolves around “figure 8” activities, captured by the graphic of the infinity sign on the book’s front cover.
In Chapter 2 Betsy addresses retained primitive and postural reflexes, and the material presented nicely complements the many resources that have now become available on the subject. Chapters 3 and 4 are dedicated toward vision, nicely covering the distinctions between eyesight and vision. These chapters are nicely illustrated and illuminate the importance of testing and treating visual skill problems as well as difficulties presented by strabismus and amblyopia. Readers will particularly enjoy Chapter 4 for its introduction to Stereo Sue experiences as well as Jillian’s Story.
Chapters 5 through 8 elaborate on the application of principles that Betsy gleaned from the SOI, Belgau, Integrated Listening, and Brain Gym programs introduced in earlier portions of the book. Chapters 9 through 13 deal with specific clinical issues involving emotional freedom, dyslexia and dysgraphia, ADHD, sensory integration dysfunction, and autism. Although illustrative examples from clients she has worked with are liberally interspersed throughout, Chapter 14 puts a nice finishing touch on the book with a spotlight on a particular client.
There are so many passages in this wonderful book that optometrists will be delighted to read. Permit me to quote just one, from the chapter on dyslexia and dysgraphia: “When a child struggles with reading and learning, it is important to first rule out the possibility of a vision problem. If a vision problem exists, treatment may involve glasses, optometric vision therapy, or both. Optometric vision therapy treats vision problems that can interfere with learning to read or reading to learn. Once the vision problem is treated successfully, tutoring and other special services can become more effective.”
Although the subtitle of the book, how to empower your child’s mind, positions this as a book for parents, it is equally if not more suited toward educators and other professionals for its integrated viewpoints on vision, learning, and overall development. Wherever vision is discussed, frequent reminders are placed about the importance of consulting with a COVD optometrist. In her back jacket endorsement of the book, Professor Sue Barry writes: “This book is a great resource for parents, teachers, and anyone interested in the workings of our very flexible brain.” In his endorsement, Dr. Robert Meeker of SOI Systems writes: “”Between being confronted with a debilitating learning problem and finding a successful resolution, there is a vast body of information and data to be traversed. This is one of the better guidebooks available.” After reading it I think you’ll agree with Drs. Barry and Meeker, and it will be become one of your “go to” books recommended to parents and teachers.
In a personalized inscription in the copy of her book that Besty mailed to me, she wrote: “Dear Dr. Press – I enjoyed your seminar in Oakland. As promised, I’m sending you one of the first prints of my book. I hope you read it, like it, and blog it. I appreciate your interest. – Betsy.”
Thank you, Betsy. I did, I do, and I shall.