4a - Your World

Posted by Helen St Clair Tracy in Level 4 - Self Referencing
Published: 28/01/2020, 12:06am | Updated: 24/02/2020, 7:33am

Video Link: https://vimeo.com/391530882

Find another person, and try this little exercise.

Both of you, think about your surroundings, and each list and describe everything each of you can see, hear and if possible, what you can feel, smell and taste as well.

Your two lists are likely to be very similar. You are likely to have listed the same items as well as their colours and shapes. You may also have similar descriptions of what you were hearing, feeling and tasting.

Both of your minds are separately recreating the world as experienced through your senses, and for most people, the two separate accounts are likely to be almost identical.

Try to imagine how this might be different with someone whose brain processes such information differently?

Let's imagine we are with a group of people in a café enjoying a cup of coffee together.

Group of people sat in a café smiling and laughingGroup of people sat in a café smiling and laughing

If one of the group had a cerebral visual impairment - how might their description of their surroundings differ from everyone else?

Self Referencing

Self referencing is where a person uses their own experiences and understanding as a basis to explain something to someone else. This person is making the assumption that others experience and understand things as they do. Yet this is often not the case, particularly where a person has a visual impairment, whether it is known about or not, and whether this impairment is cerebral, or ocular or both.

Here at CVI Scotland we repeatedly hear from visually impaired people about how often things that people say do not make sense, because these things are based on something the typically sighted person can see, but not the visually impaired person who:

  • cannot see, or
  • does not see as clearly, or
  • sees differently

Self Referencing... where a person uses their own experiences and understanding as a basis to explain something to someone else

CVI Scotland

And so what the person is saying might not make sense, or is misunderstood. It certainly cannot be easily learned from.

For example, a teacher may ask a child to sit in a particular place by pointing to where she wants them to go, and asks them kindly, to 'sit there please', assuming the child has seen her arm and finger and can visually follow the direction she is pointing in. But what if they can't do this, and don't understand where the teacher wants them to go. They have to guess, and of course probably often go to the wrong place.

Picture of smiling woman pointing.Picture of smiling woman pointing.

The teacher is self referencing. Such a simple thing, to point as part of a very straight forward instruction, but the teacher is assuming the child sees as they do.

We all do this - it is a part of how we are programmed.

Our minds are so brilliant at re-creating the world we see, feel, hear, smell, taste, touch and move through, that we assume what we experience is not in our mind at all! And that what we experience, our understanding of what 'normal', is the same for everyone.

Here's the really tricky bit!

If you are close to a person with CVI, you will need to learn how to step outside of your own understanding of 'normal' for you.

Instead you will need to learn to understand the limits of their 'normal', which are different to yours. You will need to learn how to live in two parallel worlds, theirs and yours.

Image of two worlds with the text 'you need to learn how to live in two parallel worlds, theirs and yours'.Image of two worlds with the text 'you need to learn how to live in two parallel worlds, theirs and yours'.

In the lessons in this level, we are going to show you how how this can be done.

Before looking in greater detail at the individual cerebral visual impairments (in Level 5), please take the time to read these few lessons, to learn what you need to do differently.

Before you move onto the next lesson, please check you understand the following:

  • Your world is created by your mind.
  • Your world exists in your mind, and is how you experience the world.
  • Your world is not necessarily the same as other people's worlds, so what is normal to you, may not be the normal of others.
  • You need to know what self referencing is, and how this does not work when communicating with those with visual impairments.

Next lesson: Level 4b Self Referencing - Limits of the Mind

Optional further reading

Further reading is not necessary to proceed, but if interested, you may enjoy the following:

Gordon Dutton's Blog 24 on self referencing criteria

Gordon Dutton's Blog 6 on the language used around people with visual impairments.


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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.