Seeing: the visual sense
Sight, or seeing is the visual sense. The eye is the sensory organ associated with sight. The eye receives signals of light reflected from the world around us.
Each eye has an optic nerve that transmits the data to the brain. The two optic nerves meet at the optic chiasm in the brain. This is where the sensory data from each eye is combined and the brain interprets the images.
Talking about sight
Talking about sight with children can help them develop a rich vocabulary, especially of adjectives.
We often talk about what we can see with children. Naming things we can see and telling our children is common, for example, “Look, there’s a dog!”
We use a range of descriptive language to give details about things we can see. For example, we often talk about colour, size, quantity or number. Parents often talk to babies about what they can see long before babies are talking. It is a good way of sharing experiences, and normalising communicating with babies even before they are speaking themselves.
Visual sensitivity and disorders
As with many of the senses there are different types of disorders. Some affect sensing, these are often caused by a problem or difference in the sensing organ. For example, problems with the muscles of the eye can make it hard to focus. Or, in retinal dystrophies the rod, and then the cone, cells that receive the light signals in the eye begin to die reducing the level of visual sensation.
Visual processing disorders
Other conditions are related to how the brain processes information. Theses are known as visual processing disorders. In these conditions people’s eyes are taking in normal amounts of visual data. However, the brain is not processing the information effectively, so people are struggle with aspects of seeing.
Visual processing disorders cover a number of areas such as visual discrimination: seeing the difference between certain letters, shapes or objects. Difficulty distinguishing something from its background or surroundings is another form of visual processing disorder. Visual sequencing issues affect the ability to see things in the right order. This can involve struggling to see letters in the right order, or to read lines of text without skipping or repeating lines. There are many types of visual processing disorders, and you can find out more about them here.
We talk about colour a lot especially when talking to young children. It is often one of the main features we pick out when describing objects. For example, “I can see a red car, and that car is blue.” Colour is an interesting visual phenomenon, because different people interpret colours differently. Even people with normal vision may disagree about whether a colour is a blue or a green, a red or a purple. People with colour blindness struggle to distinguish between colours. There are 3 general types of colour blindness. Red-green colour blindness causes difficulty distinguishing red and green, whilst blue-yellow colour blindness causes difficulty differentiating blue and yellow. Both types have subtypes that cover differing visual issues. Monochromacy, or complete colour. blindness, is a rare condition in which people see no colours at all.
Seeing: using sight for play, calming and sleep
Seeing games: play and the visual sense
We often take our sense of sight for granted, and we use it a lot in both work, leisure and general life. We read, watch television, admire the scenery, look at photos, and art.
Lots of games that we play with children are based on sight and seeing too. There are many ways we can use the visual sense in play. One of the simplest ways to think about sight and play is to consider varying light levels. Draw the curtains, create a. dark or dim zone: how different do things look? Or use light to create shadows. Can you make shadow puppets? What about having a torch in the dark and moving it around to pinpoint objects. Can you tell what they are? Admire twinkling lights, such as fairy lights in the dark. Children are often fascinated by their normal surroundings and how different they look in different conditions.
Look at the world around you
I spy is a great game for encouraging us to pay attention to the world around us. “I spy with my little eye something coloured”… or, “something beginning with…” Different versions can be used for children at different development levels.
Peek-a-boo: One of the first games babies learn to play with their caregivers. Few things make babies laugh like covering their face and uncovering it again, and watching you do the same. This simple game builds connection, and uses eye contact and other visual facial cues, supporting pre-verbal communication skills.
Matching games: which objects/pictures/cards are the same. For older children you can have pictures that are more similar to each other. This can be a memory game too, if you turn pictures over and take it in turn to find pairs,
Colour sorting games
Colour sorting games. This can be played with a random assortment of objects. Group all of the red items together, and the blue items together. You can play similar game by shape: put all the square blocks in one pile, the rectangles in another pile, and so on.
Sleep and the visual sense
Again, light levels is a good place to start. Bright light, especially light towards the blue end of the spectrum encourages the body to produce cortisol, the awakeness and alertness hormone. If we are trying to calm for sleep we need to reduce cortisol production and increase melatonin production. Melatonin is produced when the eye, specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, signals to the brain that it is beginning to get dark. Dim light or darkness is best for sleep. Artificial light before bed, especially the blue light that screens use can make it harder to sleep. If you need a night light, then a red light is least disruptive to melatonin production.
Some people find closing their eyes, or not focusing on any visual stimulus helps them get to sleep. Other people find reading, or looking at calming images helps them to calm because it provides a focal point and reduces distraction, allowing the brain to relax and gradually become sleepy.
Calming and sight
When thinking about calm and the visual sense we are considering how to regulate our sight, or visual input. Some people struggle in bright light, and are averse to bright environments. They may find it more comfortable to wear sunglasses in bright environments even indoor. Other people find dim of poorly lit environments stressful. The type of lighting can make a difference, some lights flicker in ways that most people do not notice, but can be very distressing to those who do. Find your comfort zone in terms of lighting. You may not have strong preferences, and that is fine too.
Some people love lots of visual stimulus. They like strong bright colours, lots of decoration, or trinkets, and things to see and look at. On the other hand, some people find visual busyness overstimulating and prefer fewer, or softer colours. They may be more comfortable in more minimalist environments and find clutter overwhelming.