Brain Waste - An Issue For Us All
Think about what you are doing, reading this, maybe on a phone or computer. Without moving your head, just take a moment and move your eyes around and take in everything that you can see around you. Your brain has had to map and process everything.
How much brain processing is needed for what you are doing?
Maybe there is a bookshelf, and because it has been there for a long time, it's easy to ignore, but it still has to be processed, and if the bookshelf is not directly contributing to what you are doing, then it is being unnecessarily mapped, wasting a little bit of your brain's processing power. Some compare it to the RAM of a computer - we all have a finite amount of conscious brain processing capacity (or RAM), and we can all process both optimally, or sometimes very poorly.
A child may be doing their homework on a table with a checked or patterned table cloth. That child's brain, whilst focusing on their homework, also has to map everything in their visual field, whether being focused on or not, including the pattern on the table cloth, and so a little bit of their mental RAM is being wasted.
This mapping of the whole visual scene, within your visual field, happens in a part of the brain called the posterior parietal lobes, and is part of a group of visual processes, including visual attention, called the higher visual processes. These are important to understand, because it is here that a lot of RAM can be wasted, often unnecessarily and avoidably.
Brain waste affecting our RAM can be understood in terms of a simple input - output process:
Everything we experience, we sort of sweep up through our five main senses, and process what things look, sound, smell, taste and feel like. That's what goes in.
The input is processed in the brain, and through reflection and understanding, we should be able to make sense of where we are and what we are doing, so we can make informed intelligent decisions. That's what comes out (ideally).
In between, there is a lot of waste. Sounds in the background, lingering smells, the pinch of a tight pair of shoes, a patterned tablecloth or tightly packed bookcase - all using up little bits of our RAM...normally unnecessarily.
For everyone, optimal learning is where there is minimal brain waste - so where it is quiet, clutter and movement free. But that is not the real world. Yet most of us can get by, and still manage to focus easily, even when there is visual clutter or background noise. When these background sights and sounds can't be ignored, they are sometimes called distractions. Some people can easily filter out distraction, and comfortably focus even when surrounded by noise in a busy environment. Others find filtering out distraction like background noise, much harder, which makes paying attention to what they are doing much more difficult.
Why are we telling you this?
Firstly, because understanding basic brain processes helps everyone, and whether you are easily distracted or not easily distracted, making simple changes to your environment will release mental RAM and make your brain work more effectively.
But what about for those affected by CVI?
Where the surroundings are distracting, they can really struggle, to learn, develop, and become independent and socially confident.
For those affected by CVI this does not just mean extremely cluttered challenging environments like busy airports or packed shopping centres. Distraction that inhibits learning might be a few notices on a wall or even quiet talking outside a room. Little things that might seem like nothing to those who do not have CVI, can make the difference between learning and not learning for some with CVI, who may need an environment where they need to learn just one thing at a time, one sense at a time. Gordon Dutton in his Blog 25 (below) writes about this type of learning, reflecting how he taught his baby son language, one thing at a time.
Getting the environment right is key for people with CVI to learn and develop, but it is something we rarely see focussed on, and one reason we think might be because so many people still associate CVI with just low vision.
Many affected by CVI have difficulties with their vision being inconsistent, unreliable and untrustworthy, making the world often a very frightening place. They may also have low vision as part of their profile of CVIs, but low vision is a different visual challenge, needing additional different approaches. A parent wrote a blog (below) and explained the difference in her son, when she understood his higher visual processes in addition to his basic visual functions, that were creating so many challenges for him.
Get the environment wrong, and often, considerable difficulties lie ahead for the person with CVI. A BBC documentary (link below) featured several accounts from young people, who had tried very hard to cope, in environments that were far from optimal, meaning that so much of their RAM was wasted, that they were exhausted, stressed and far from able to learn optimally.
It is often the higher visual processes that are not being accommodated for, in those with CVI, that are causing so many difficulties. Many children with CVI are affected by higher visual processing difficulties - this is because the posterior parietal lobes are often affected, as well as the occipital lobes, by the most common causes of CVI in children.
Cut out as much clutter as possible to reduce wasted brain activity, and everyone will benefit. It's a no brainer!
Something to think about.
The CVI Scotland Team
PS Everything new can be found in our Updates section, and via Twitter @scotlandcvi and our Facebook page.
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