Sean is fourteen, and is struggling to keep up with the book they are reading in class, Watership Down by Richard Adams.
Sean loves it when the teacher or another child in his class reads the book out loud.
Sean's teacher knows that he struggles with reading and writing, and it is thought that he may be dyslexic, even though he is very articulate and clearly very intelligent - he just struggles with reading and writing.
Sean tries to catch up at home, and places the book on an uncluttered table to read.
Try putting a book in front of you, and get a sense of your periphery vision, which is probably like this image (above), but everything outside of the book would have been filtered out (see our sections on Attention & Its Calibrations) - so whilst this is your visual field (assuming no visual field impairments), what you are aware of is more likely to be this:
Had the book been on a cluttered table, or you were somewhere with a lot of movement or noise, maybe a busy coffee shop, then everything around your book would not have been so effectively filtered out (to enable you to read without distraction).
But this isn't what you see either...
We are going to ask you to do a little test for us, in the first sentence of the paragraph below is the word rains - look at it, while not looking at any other word, try to see how many words you can correctly read around the word rains (whilst only looking at that single word rains). It is a bit tricky, if you find yourself accidentally moving your visual focus to another word, don't worry, it is how we are programmed to see, just try again with another word.
We explained this in more detail in our Simultanagnosia Spectrum section.
So, for most people, when looking at the book, this may be more like what their brain visually produces:
Thinking of your visual attention, like a headlamp, shining through a fog, where you shine it (what is in the beam of light) is clearest. To read, you have practiced since childhood the skill of sweeping your gaze from left to right, reading in sequence, along a line, and when at the end, to go to the beginning of the next line. Where a paragraph is very dense, we all can easily lose our place, because we are not looking at the whole paragraph, only a bit of it.
Sean's visual attention is more like this, again, reading the word rains.
Reading is exhausting for Sean, often he can't read whole words, and making the text bigger makes it even harder. Here, it looks like the first clear word is ever, when actually it is never (if you review the clear text above). Making the text even bigger would mean Sean only saw smaller parts of the words.
Sean loses his place, so reads pointing his finger on the word he is reading, he is too embarrassed to do this in class, but at home it helps him keep his place, although this is very slow, so he loses the pace of the story - almost like it is being told in slow motion - which reduces the enjoyment, because Sean, as we said is very bright.
When Sean does lose his place, maybe because he became distracted and his finger slipped, it's a nightmare, he has no idea how to get back to where he was.
And Sean is very easily distracted, because reading like this is mentally demanding and exhausting, and as his brain quickly becomes tired, so staying focused becomes harder, and so Sean becomes frustrated and agitated, which uses up more brain power, which makes staying focused even harder. It seems to be easier for Sean to simply accept that he has something wrong with him, called dyslexia, that means he can't read like the other children.
Sean does indeed have something, but it has another name, it's called simultanagnostic vision.
Sean may describe his challenges reading as:
We developed our free reading tool (called Look) for people like Sean, where text is shown one word at a time, with many options around size and speed. Sean has done well to get as far as he has in school, but is really starting to struggle now, and is worried about exams and the future.
Simultanagnostic vision can cause great difficulties with reading and writing, which we know can be attributed to dyslexia. Please read our introduction to a Developmental Dyslexia Paper which presents compelling arguments about why we must be extremely careful when we label children.
Sean is a character we have made up to explain these challenges, however the issues are based on genuine accounts people have shared with us.
Simulation of simultanagnosia is difficult, because we are trying to simulate something that is often not conscious, so how can we know what it is actually like?
We can't, for certain, but we have worked together with adults who have come to gain awareness of their simultanagnosia, so as to obtain the closest simulation that we can for the present.
The blurring of the images in the periphery is meant to represent degrees of reduced visual attention for anything not being directly looked at, and should not be confused with reduced visual acuity.
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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.