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November/December Newsletter

 

READY FOR SCHOOL

With the start of a new year comes the beginning of a new school year. Many parents wonder if their child is ready to meet the academic and social expectations of grade one, the first step on the long journey of the school years. Feelings of anxiety are natural, and parents do not always have the objectivity or the knowledge to make this major decision but there are many experts in the field of early childhood development who can guide them.
 
Educational experts differentiate between a child's level of school readiness and the level of learning readiness. Although closely linked, these concepts are different. School readiness is based on the foundation of intellectual, motor, social, emotional and perceptual factors. To be learning ready the child needs to be able to sit still , have good listening skills, concentrate on tasks for a certain period of time, get along with others, show independence and a sense of responsibility, communicate effectively, and perhaps most importantly demonstrate an interest in learning. Learning readiness is influenced by the learning experiences to which the child has been exposed before going to school. A child may pass a school readiness test but not be ready to cope with the demands and requirements of the classroom.
 
No single factor determines whether a child is ready for school or not. Learning is a complex process requiring the integration and coordination of a number of skills, including physical development, cognitive abilities, communication skills, emotional maturity, hearing and vision. Children need to be competent in all these areas to be able to master the challenges of grade one. The majority of the demand at school is on the visual system. As the child progresses through school, more time is spent working on the computer, more challenging study material is presented in books and demands on the eyes increase.
 
Visual perception is our understanding and knowledge about the world and our environment through the information we receive via the eyes. It is made up of a number of skills which do not function independently of each other but need to work together in an integrated manner to facilitate effective learning, interpretation and response to visual stimuli.
 
Visual acuity - this is a measure of how clearly one is able to see at various distances. Problems that could impact academic performance include difficulty with distance vision (shortsightedness), close vision (farsightedness) or blurred vision due to an irregularly shaped cornea (astigmatism). Visual acuity is a subjective experience; the child is generally unaware that he sees differently from others and is unlikely to report difficulties with visual acuity. A visit to your optometrist for an eye examination before the child starts school is advisable to rule out or deal with visual acuity problems.
 
It is important to note that a child may have no problems with visual acuity but present with visual processing problems which lead to problems with certain tasks required for learning.
 
Visual attention - this refers to the ability to focus on important visual information.
 
Figure-ground - the child needs to filter out irrelevant background information while attending to relevant information, for example finding a specific word on a page.
 
Eye focusing - this skill is necessary for a child to be able to maintain clear vision when changing focus at different distances. Reading and writing require sustained focus, while looking at the teacher and then at a book close by requires rapid change of focus.
 
Eye teaming - each eye receives a slightly different image which the brain processes to create a single 3D image, enabling the child to judge depth and spatial relationships. To achieve this the eyes need to work together smoothly and accurately.
 
Visual motor integration - this involves the effective communication between the hands and the eyes, using visual information to direct movement of the hands in tasks such as catching a ball or the finer tasks of developing handwriting and drawing.
 
Form constancy - this is the ability to recognise and identify objects or shapes in different environments despite differences in their size or position, for example recognising an apple in a fruit bowl or in a picture, or a word on the TV screen or in a book.
 
Visual discrimination - this is an essential skill in reading, spelling and maths, as it requires the ability to compare numbers, letters and words, recognising their differences and similarities.
 
Visual closure - the child with visual closure skills is able to recognise a word or object when only part of it is visible, filling in the details of words or sentences without having to read each individual letter or word.
 
Visual spatial relationships - this involves being able to perceive where the body is in relation to oneself and others. In the classroom the child needs to know concepts such as left from right, top from bottom, where to start writing on the page, and spacing of letters and words.
 
Visual memory - an important skill in learning to read, this refers to recalling the details of what has been previously seen while reading or remembering what was seen before copying it into a book.
 
Visual sequential memory - closely related to visual memory, this is the ability to remember the correct sequence of numbers or letters, which is fundamental to spelling, reading and maths.
 
If a child has difficulties in any area of visual perception, he or she will find the world of learning confusing and experience problems performing tasks that most children take for granted. Academic performance will be impacted as he struggles with reading and writing, frustration may prevent him from remaining focused on a task and he may lose confidence and develop behavioural problems.
 
Parents know their children best. Teachers are in a position to observe a child's abilities and difficulties in relation to other children of the same age. Professional experts, including optometrists, perform assessments in specific areas to determine whether the child has the fundamental requirements for school and learning readiness. Together they are able to make an informed decision in the best interests of the child.


 

MY EYES ARE FINE; MY ARMS ARE TOO SHORT!

Out for dinner with friends one evening, one friend noticed that another was struggling to read the menu. Laughing, he said: "I see your arms have become too short. Would you like me to hold the menu for you on my side of the table?" Everyone at the table nodded and smiled, acknowledging that they were all in the same boat, all over the age of 50, and all experiencing presbyopia to some degree. "I manage to read the menu in a restaurant," commented one woman, "as long as the lights are bright enough and the print is a reasonable size." To save the embarrassment of being unable to read the menu, one man asked his wife to order his dinner. Another admitted that he always goes to the same restaurant and always orders the same meal. The conversation became more serious as presbyopia and its impact on daily life was shared.
 
"I can't read the labels on packets and cans when I shop." "Can you read the dosage instructions on medication?" "I often call or send messages to the wrong people because I can't read the numbers or names on my phone clearly." "I used to enjoy doing embroidery at night but now I just watch TV." While all these concerns may be signs of presbyopia, they may also be indications of more serious eye conditions like cataracts or age-related macular degeneration. Visit your optometrist regularly for a comprehensive eye examination to detect and manage problems and to discuss these vision concerns.
 
"We know it's part of the aging process, but what exactly causes the deterioration in our vision?" One of the party shared the explanation that his optometrist had given him. The tiny ciliary muscle attached to the eye's lens contracts and relaxes to help us focus on near and far objects. This muscle is at its most contracted when we need close-up focus, and most relaxed when we look further away. As we get older, the ciliary muscles weaken. Ageing also affects the lens in the eye; it becomes less flexible and less able to change focus rapidly. "My body is less flexible, so I guess it makes sense that my eyes are too!" quipped a yoga instructor. Added to this, the receptor cells in the retina responsible for colour vision become less sensitive, colours appear less bright and the contrast between colours is less noticeable.
 
"Aging is inevitable, the condition won't improve, so it's a waste of time and money going to see the optometrist," remarked one man. Another man disagreed. "My optometrist gave me a number of helpful options."
 
"I have never had a problem with my vision, so my optometrist recommended reading glasses."
 
"I have been wearing glasses for shortsightedness since I was a child, and now I need correction for both distance and near vision. Bifocals were an option, but I don't like the look of them because of the line in the middle. I am wearing progressive lenses which have a more gradual change of power. They took some getting used to but now I hardly notice the difference between the different powers."
 
"I have the same problem - I am shortsighted and never had trouble with reading or sewing. I tried contact lenses for distance vision and reading glasses for close work, but I never seem to have my glasses nearby when I need them. My optometrist suggested either bifocal or monovision contact lenses. I chose monovision and wear a lens for distance vision in my right eye and one for close work in my left."
 
Her friend shook her head and said that as a result of menopause she experiences severe dry eye symptoms and is unable to wear contact lenses comfortably. Dry eye is a common problem in older people, particularly women, as tear production slows down and the quality of tears deteriorates.
 
"Everyone is talking about anti-aging. I wanted to find out if there is any way to prevent or improve presbyopia or at least delay its onset. The short answer was NO! But my optometrist did give me some tips to make it easier to cope with." Some of these are obvious ones, such as adjusting the distance when reading, enlarging the font size on electronic devices, ensuring that the lighting is adequate and comfortable, and taking visual breaks by looking into the distance every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
 
"As well as these we can care for our eyes just like we need to care for our general health and well-being" added some-one. Monitor chronic conditions that can affect the eyes, like diabetes and vascular disease, and schedule regular medical check-ups and eye examinations. Follow a healthy diet, eat foods that contain high levels of antioxidants as well as vitamin A and beta carotene which are vital to eye health. Exercise regularly to maintain circulation in the body and the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Smiling, one person commented: "We all do some exercise and we are losing flexibility. Imagine how stiff we would be if we didn't exercise!"
 
Aging is inevitable and its not reserved for humans!
 
"I'm getting old:
I can still spot a rabbit a kilometer away, but I can't read the newspaper anymore ...."

 

 

 


MOVIE MAGIC

Three-dimensional stereoscopic films are films that enhance the illusion of depth perception. 3D movies have existed in some form or another since the 19th century, but they have had a roller coaster history, alternating between boom and bust. While they would hardly be considered 3D films by today's standards, the first patent for 3D film making was registered in the 1890s. Early 3D movies were typically in black and white, and the 3D movies made in the mid-20th century were generally horror movies. The first major 3D movie in colour, released in 1953, was "The House of Wax" which launched the career of horror movie actor, Vincent Price. The popularity of 3D films waned for some time, until its short-lived revival in the 1980s with the release of "Jaws 3D" and "Amityville 3D". As technology became more sophisticated, the early 2000s saw an explosion of successful 3D films, but it was James Cameron's award-winning "Avatar" that finally established 3D as a medium that is here to stay. Some studios are now converting 2D films into the 3D format.
 
The creation of the 3D effect in the making of 3D movies mimics the functioning of human vision. Human beings have binocular or stereoscopic vision, each eye seeing a slightly different image. These are fused by the brain into a single three-dimensional image. To create a similar effect, 3D films are captured using two lenses placed side by side about as far apart from each other as the human eyes, recording slightly different images for each eye. The separate images projected onto a flat screen trick the brain into interpreting them as one three-dimensional image.
 
In older 3D films, footage for the left eye would be filmed using a red lens filter, producing a red image, and footage for the right eye would be shot using a blue filter, resulting in a blue image. Two projectors then superimposed the images on the cinema screen, creating a single image. Unfortunately, this method did not allow the film makers to make full use of colour, leading to the use of polarised instead of red and blue light in the more modern films. After being recorded using side by side cameras, the two reels of film are projected onto the screen through different polarised filters. Double images are projected onto the screen, and each lens filters light from one image. Usually, one lens filters horizontal light and the other filters vertical light. Combined, this gives the impression of a 3D image.
 
In the cinema, viewers of the movie wear 3D glasses which feed a different image into each eye. The brain then does what it does naturally, fusing the two images into one and creating depth perception. While there are three different types of 3D glasses and they all do something a little different, each works on the same basic principle: filtering the world differently for each eye. 3D glasses can be worn quite comfortably over prescription spectacles, although some people find this uncomfortable and opt for contact lenses with 3D glasses instead.
 
Concerns have been raised regarding the safety of watching 3D films or playing 3D video games. Long term research into the effects of 3D movies or video games on eyesight and eye health is limited. The two primary effects of 3D movies that are unnatural for human vision are crosstalk between the eyes due to imperfect image separation, and a mismatch between convergence and accommodation caused by the difference between an object's perceived position and its real position on the screen. However, there seems to be no evidence that viewing media in 3D harms vision or overall eye health. This applies to children, too. Their binocular vision should be fully developed by the age of three and there should be no harm in their watching 3D films.
 
Some movie-goers have complained of headaches and eye strain after watching 3D films, and there have been a few reports of nausea and the sensation of motion sickness. These symptoms are usually mild and are relieved by sitting further from the screen or occasionally removing the 3D glasses and resting the eyes. The possible reasons given for this discomfort include poor film quality as a result of imperfections in the equipment used to make the films, bad glasses and cheap projectors. Errors in the movie itself cannot always be prevented, but most people adjust to these errors as the film progresses. A small percentage of people are unable to properly see 3D images due to a variety of medical conditions, and weak stereoscopic vision prevents others from having depth perception based on stereo disparity.
 
2019 is predicted to be a bumper year for 3D movies, including films such as "Dumbo", "Captain Marvel", "Aladdin", "The Avengers", and, of course, obligatory horror movies "Hell Boy" and "Godzilla". So, grab your popcorn and your 3D glasses and enjoy the fun!

 


MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO IS FAIREST OF THEM ALL?

The wicked queen in the fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" didn't always receive the answer she was hoping to receive when she posed this question. What answer do we expect to hear when we ask related questions? Which gives a fairer reflection of me, the mirror or the camera? Which is more accurate and closer to my actual appearance? Does my reflection in the mirror show me what I really look like? Which image matches the way others see me? The one in the mirror or the one in the photograph? As with the fairy tale queen, the answer is not simple.
 
While there are similarities in what we see in the mirror and in photographs, there are also some differences. The camera works very much like the human eye in that they both process light and record images, but while the camera is a tool for capturing the images, the visual system makes sense of what is seen. The eye transmits a message to the brain which has the power to process and interpret the information it receives but the camera cannot process or interpret what is captured. Unlike the camera which simply takes a picture, the eyes are constantly receiving a flow of images which need to be processed.
 
Vision is a dynamic complex process in which the brain uses a combination of information from different sources to generate and make sense of what we see. This includes past experience and expectations as well as the current environment. Because our brains are able to process information in this way, we are able to automatically see what we are accustomed to seeing in the mirror. The camera simply captures what is there, which is not always what we would choose to focus on and may surprise us! Looking in the mirror we are seeing a moving image which we can adjust to see ourselves as we like to; photographs are a static capture of a particular moment with all its small details, good and bad. Photographs don't give us the luxury of filtering out what we prefer not to see.
 
It is reported that most people prefer the image of themselves in the mirror to the one in photographs. A number of possible reasons for this has been suggested, including psychological explanations. We tend to look in the mirror most when we are at home in a familiar relaxed environment, whereas photographs are generally taken in different locations where we may feel more self-conscious and are often unprepared for the experience. We generally view ourselves in the mirror from the same angle and get used to seeing that perspective of ourselves. Added to that, the human face is not symmetrical, but we become less aware of that with our regular view of ourselves in the mirror. Photographs, on the other hand may be taken from any direction and not always show our "best side". When we look at ourselves in the mirror we have a good idea of what we look like from a particular angle and expect that we will look like that from any angle. We are often surprised then by photos which show different or unexpected views of ourselves.
 
Is it true that the camera never lies? The camera has to transform a three-dimensional image into a two-dimensional image, and in so doing some distortions do occur. Strictly speaking then, a photograph is not a precise or exact image of ourselves. In the mirror we literally see a "mirror image" of ourselves, an image in reverse. This is an image that we are accustomed to seeing but is the opposite of what others who are looking at us see. Do we regard this as an exact view of ourselves? So, to see our "true" selves, should we trust the mirror or the camera? The truth is that both the camera and the mirror show accurate, albeit different, versions of ourselves, and the image we have of ourselves is not exactly how other people see us or how the camera captures us. Most importantly, perhaps we should remember the wise words of well-known author Dr Seuss:


 

EYES ON THE ROAD

The end of the year is here at last! Holiday arrangements have been finalised. Christmas shopping has been done. Plans have been made for looking after your home and pets while you are away. Your car has been serviced. Have you checked that your eyes are "roadworthy" for the trip ahead?
 
We rely on our eyes more than our other senses when driving, as the majority of decisions made while driving are based on information coming in through the eyes. The eyes are constantly in motion, focusing and refocusing on traffic signals and other cars, adjusting to glare from the sun or headlights of oncoming cars, needing to be aware of pedestrians, becoming strained and fatigued on long distances. A complete eye examination will rule out problems that may compromise safe driving and your optometrist will manage problems that are detected before you set out on your journey.
 
VISION AND DRIVING
 
Driving requires complex visual skills. Distance acuity, the ability to see clearly at far distances is crucial to safe driving. Have your prescription checked in case there have been changes since your last eye examination. Because the eyes should always be on the road, good peripheral vision is essential to enable the driver to see out of the corner of the eyes anything that is not directly ahead. The driver needs effective depth perception to be able to accurately judge distances, particularly between moving objects, and to safely change lanes. Accommodation is the ability to quickly and easily change focus on objects at various distances, for example from the dashboard to a distant traffic light or vice versa. When driving at night, one should be able to see well in low light and to recover quickly from headlight glare.
 
SAFETY TIPS
 
Smudges on the windscreen of the car or on your glasses may interfere with clear vision - ensure that they are clean.
 
Many people have decreased vision at night. To avoid the blinding effect by headlights of oncoming cars, watch the white line in the road rather than looking directly into oncoming traffic.
 
Driving long distances, particularly with changing light conditions, can trigger eye strain and fatigue. Instead of staring straight ahead for long periods, shift the focus of the eyes to look at the dashboard or the side of the road from time to time. Remember to blink regularly.
 
Adjust the dashboard light to decrease glare on the windscreen.
 
Increase the distance between your car and the car ahead; as well as being safer, it prevents your headlights from blinding the driver ahead of you.
 
Discuss with your optometrist wearing glasses with anti-reflexive or polarised lenses, which significantly reduce reflected glare.
 
The end of the year brings with it many occasions to celebrate with friends and family, and sometimes to indulge in excessive alcohol consumption. The legal implications of driving while under the influence of alcohol are well-known. A less known implication is the effect that alcohol has on vision and eye health. Moderate drinking may lead to some changes in vision, but these are usually short-term. Heavy drinking over an extended period of time often has a more serious and sometimes more permanent impact.
 
ALCOHOL AND THE EYES
 
Consuming alcohol in moderation is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the eyes. In the short term there may be blurred or double vision, difficulty with depth perception and judging of distances, and decreased peripheral vision due to weakened eye muscle coordination. Alcohol tends to affect the speed at which the pupils react to light by dilating or constricting. The driver may be unable to adapt quickly to the headlights of oncoming cars and visual sharpness may be reduced. Driving in rain or fog may be difficult as contrast sensitivity is impaired reducing the ability to discern between contrasting colours or different shades of the same colour, such as between different shades of grey. Dehydration is one of the effects of alcohol consumption, resulting in worsening of the symptoms of people who suffer from dry eyes. Even those who are not dry eye sufferers may experience dry irritated eyes and headaches, causing discomfort and eye strain when concentrating on the road ahead.
 
Excessive alcohol consumption over time can cause the weakness of the eye muscles to become permanent and the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration to increase. The optic nerve which transmits messages from the eyes to the brain may be affected by consumption of alcohol in the long term, resulting in a permanent loss of vision, reduced colour vision and decreased peripheral vision. The absorption of essential nutrients by the body is compromised by excessive use of alcohol. Among these are vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, all of which play a vital role in optimal eye health and the protection of the eyes against eye-related conditions.
 

DRIVE SAFELY. ENJOY THE HOLIDAY BREAK. COME BACK REFRESHED AND READY TO FACE A NEW YEAR.


THE QUEEN, THE PREZ, AND THOSE UNDERPANTS

Quick disclaimer before we get started. This article will not feature any comments about having "20/20 vision" for the year 2020. My teachers always told us to avoid cliche. And if I play the 2020 card, all their hard work was for nothing.
 
What we can do is look back on the year that was 2019. And no doubt every person with a Facebook page will name our Rugby World Cup win as their best moment of the year. Some will say they saw it coming all along. Others will say we didn't stand a chance until crunch time came. Whatever your theory, the win was impressive. And if I ask you to name the most memorable image of the year, there's a good chance you'll think of Faf de Klerk and his proudly South African underpants. I'll bet Prince Harry will also put that on his list of 2019 faves.
 
Speaking of Prince Harry, he and Meghan rejoiced as 2019 was the year of Archie. Their firstborn was greeted with celebration in May. Maybe if he'd been born in November, he would've been christened Prince Faf. (Who knows?!) But either way, his arrival was a great moment for the royal family.
 
A less great moment for the royals was the time Mister President (the orange American one) messed up the Queen's lawn. The monarch complained that his helicopter scorched the lawns of Buckingham Palace. Quite a way to make an impression when visiting someone's home. Everyone with a garden could relate to the Queen's frustration. And that wasn't the only thing that went less-than-smoothly for President Trump this year. But let's not get too hung up on politics.
 
The Queen wasn't the only person who got annoyed this year. Millions of Game of Thrones fans felt the end of the series wasn't quite worth the hype... you know, the hype they've been creating themselves for years and years. Judy Garland's family got annoyed that she became the subject of a new film (and those who don't care for Renee Zellweger were annoyed by her big comeback in that film). Also in Hollywood, Jared Leto was annoyed by a mega-successful Joker movie that he wasn't in.
 
And of course, there's the frustration of that political situation in the north. (We're exiting, we're not, we're exiting, we're not...) But we said we won't talk politics so let's leave it there.
 
Rather let's turn our attention back to our proudly South African flag. Even if you'd like to forget that you saw it on those de Klerk underpants, remember how grandly it flew in so many other places. It was quite a year to be here, wasn't it?
 
And in that spirit, let's keep it flying into a brand new shiny decade. Bring on The Twenties.

 

September/October Newsletter
 

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Thursday, 12 December 2019
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