Regular readers of our blog will be familiar with the name Patricia Lemer, long-standing advocate for developmental optometry and author of the widely acclaimed book, Outsmarting Autism. Patty is a licensed professional counselor who holds a Masters of Education in Counseling and Learning Disabilities from Boston College and a Masters in Business from Johns Hopkins University. She was co-founder and Executive Director of Developmental Delay Resources (DDR).
Patty was recently interviewed by Brigitte Shipman, a former school teacher and director, and Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, on her Mother’s Guide Through Autism Podcast. I believe the entire podcast is well-worth listening to, but I want to point out some specific highlights for you.
- At the 13:29 mark, Brigitte makes mention of her son Joseph, now age 28, who is on the autistic spectrum. She comments: “He particularly struggles with making the right decision, which places alot of pressure on him”. To which Patty replies: “You might tell him that we don’t learn as much from our right decisions as we do from our wrong decisions. We learn from adversity. We all have to have adversity to keep moving and keep growing. Those who haven’t had much adversity in their lives are still searching for meaning.” How insightful!
- Patty begins elaborating about vision at the 15:29 mark, particularly as distinct from eyesight. She does a masterful job at weaving this into a narrative that encompasses issues faced by individuals on the autistic spectrum. This generated several ‘Aha’ moments for Brigitte, which is what makes this podcast so well-suited to the general public.
- At the 23:00 minute mark, Patty emphasizes the need for parents to find the right kind of doctor to evaluate the visual needs of their child, who can differentiate between eyesight and vision on a clinical basis, and that is the optometrist, not the ophthalmologist. It is so powerful to hear Patty say this, who has no dogma in the hunt. She describes Doctors of Optometry or O.D.s as the Ph.D. version of vision specialists, spending four years in graduate school just studying the eyes and vision — in contrast to the ophthalmologist, whose three year education after obtaining an M.D. degree is oriented more toward pathology of the eye and its medical/surgical treatment.
- Patty does a marvelous job making it clear that listeners can find a doctor who has undertaken postgraduate work in Optometry, through the locator at www.oepf.org, or the locator at www.covd.org in particular for specialists who are board-certified. You can hear the excitement in Brigitte’s voice as the light bulbs go off that this may be a missing link for her son, even though he is 28 years old. Patty adds that she is still fascinated by the work that optometrists do, how powerful it is, and how passionate she is in building bridges between Optometry and Education.
- At the 31:00 minute mark, Patty notes how some children on the autistic spectrum are highly peripheral, while others are highly focal. The problem in many instances is that a child gets locked into one mode or the other. In Patty’s words, “Inflexible behavior is a sign of inflexible vision, and as we loosen up the vision, we loosen up the behavior”. She emphasizes that this is why it is crucial that every child with an autism diagnosis should have a developmental vision exam with a developmental optometrist.
- Some OTs have crossed the line, and are presenting themselves as doing vision therapy activities with the inference that this is equivalent to taking care of all of the child’s visual therapeutic needs. But at the 36 minute mark, Patty is forthright in saying that OTs should be not be doing vision therapy independently. Rather, they should be collaborating with an optometrist who can guide them on how to do vision activities.
- For several minutes, at the 38 minute mark, Patty emphasizes the importance in these pandemic times of the impact of Zoom learning. Parents need to make sure that children have the benefit of lenses and prisms to jump start their learning when appropriate, as well as breaks involving movement to keep the body and visual system primed for learning. She references the classic work of Furth and Wachs’ Thinking Goes to School, and guidance provided through the website of Dr. Sarah Lane.
- At the 44 minute mark, Brigitte comments that another piece of this fascinating puzzle is behavior as related to vision, to which Patty remarks that A. Jean Ayres, the occupational therapist credited with developing the field of sensory integration, once noted: “Every behavior is an adaptive response“. Brigitte was blown away …”Wow – everyone needs to absorb that!” Patty elaborated that behavior has meaning. Why is that behavior occurring? She believes that behavioral modification programs like ABA are disrespectful of the child’s attempt to compensate for his underlying deficits through behaviors such as stimming or poor eye contact. We have to get at the root causes of the behavior in order to change the behavior.
- Brigitte and Patty agree on the importance of using the right terminology when discussing vision. Specifically, when we speak of visual processing we avoid the confusion that occurs when equating vision with eyesight. They draw attention to the parallels and interrelationships between visual and auditory processing (here I’ll put in a plug for my monograph from OEP on the subject), and Patty points out the work of Dr. Lynn Hellerstein on visualization in her book, “See It. Say It. Do It!”
- At the 52 minute mark, Brigitte turns to Patty for an overview of her updated and revised edition of the classic book Outsmarting Autism. The discussion ranges from the importance of sleep, to avoiding toxins, to foundational pieces that provide an effective platform for vision. And ultimately, to the wide-ranging implications of preparing parents for having healthy children, as well as helping individuals on the spectrum function at their highest possible level in society.
- Brigitte emphasizes that knowledge is power, and Patty opines that nothing substitutes for a mother’s intuition. They both agree that when first obtaining the diagnosis of autism, it can be a traumatic. In due time we come to appreciate that labels are better suited to cans than people, yet a label such as Autism Spectrum Disorder can be helpful in obtaining useful services. At the 1:04:52 mark, Patty adds a profound insight on the importance of parents learning effective stress management techniques for themselves. Anything that helps you take care of yourself will ultimately benefit your child. “It’s like being in an airplane“, she notes. You have to put your own seat belt on before you can help your child“.
Patty wrapped up by noting that she has her own podcast on talk radio that you can access through http://www.healthylife.net/. Permit me to say that I’ve been impressed with Patty’s presentations before, but she outdoes herself in this interview with Brigitte Shipman. It should be required listening for anyone looking for a synopsis of her essential work, and is a valuable link can be shared far and wide.