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Growing an Architect

While I don’t have personal information from clients to bring to bear on this, it’s hard not to notice the number of people who claim to have suffered from vision problems as children who later ended up in the field of architecture, or some related area such as mechanical drafting or even engineering.

As I came to better understand the problem of convergence insufficiency, or poor binocular vision, and thought about the implications of going through childhood with the problem, I reached some tentative conclusions as to why people with vision skills issues gravitate to fields like architecture.

Convergence Problems and Depth Perception

If your child cannot converge his eyes on a point and sustain the effort, he will avoid reading. And, if it requires too much effort to converge at all, he will spend most of his days seeing double, or will eventually favor one eye. The result of going to one eye will be that he has poor depth perception because good depth perception requires both eyes to be functioning together and converging on a single point. You can demonstrate this by covering one eye and trying to function for a few minutes. You’ll find that you don’t know for sure how far away the coffee cup handle is, or where the doorknob is, and you’ll miss them, or fail to grasp them securely with the first attempt.

Now, your child might in fact be able to converge, but only long enough to pass the tests performed by your optometrist. If you bring up this subject, you’ll be told that he passed the convergence testing. However, as I will later explain in Why Such a Secret?, your family optometrist is unlikely to test for problems like convergence insufficiency because he doesn’t treat them and because he will naturally be hesitant to refer a family to a competitor. This is normal human behavior, but what it means is that you can’t assume that your child doesn’t have a problem like convergence insufficiency based on the report of your family optometrist, unless you are going to a developmental optometrist routinely.

If your child has poor depth perception, he will appear clumsy at times, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. He might be terrible at playing catch because he can’t judge how far the ball is away as it flies at him, nor can he reliably tell how far to throw it to you. He might even walk with a tentative gait, because he really can’t tell if there’s a rise or fall in the surface just ahead of him, unless it’s clearly delineated like a step, and even then he won’t be quite sure how deep the step is, so he’ll hesitate as he tests it. If your child always grabs the railing on a strange set of steps, it might be because steps are exceptionally difficult to navigate due to a lack of depth perception.

Compensating for Poor Depth Perception

So, what’s this about growing an architect? Well, think about it. If you don’t know how far away the pencil on your desk actually is, how can you build a compensating mechanism to help you determine distance? It occurred to me that you could find clues in the lines of the desk itself, and in your prior knowledge of the size of the desk. To take an easy example, if the pencil is hanging slightly over the corner of the desk, you could, without depth perception, move your hand along the side of the desk until you saw it was intersecting the top edge of the desk and then drop your fingers down and pick up the pencil.

As your child’s skill grows at translating the lines around him into a sort of grid within which to operate, he will begin to make better judgments as to distances between the lines and will become better at estimating where the pencil lies when it is not over an intersection. Of course, what will actually be happening is that his brain will be developing a skill, really a compensating skill, that it needs because it doesn’t have the advantage of depth perception.

But what skill is this, exactly, that your little five or six year old is working on? Think about it. It is depth perception that allows us to easily perceive the third dimension, depth. Without it, we see the world in two dimensions. Your child, if he has poor convergence ability, is spending every waking moment honing the skill of translating the three-dimensional world in which he’s living into the two-dimensional world that he is forced to operate within visually.

And what do architects and draftsmen and certain engineers do exactly? Well, they spend part of their day translating three dimensions into two when they put their ideas on paper, and they spend another part of their day translating two dimensions into three as they view the work they’ve done, or the work of others. Most of us have to be taught how to do this. Your child, if he has a convergence problem, has had the advantage of needing to know how to go from 2D to 3D and back in order to function in life. He’s teaching himself, and his brain is hard at work at the process whenever he’s awake.

All of this is speculation on my part. I’ve never read it anywhere. But I do know that a lot of people who struggled with reading ended up in architecture or related fields, and I think that makes perfect sense based on what I’ve said above. So, if your child is struggling in school now, and you manage to determine that he has a convergence problem and address it successfully, keep in mind that all that time struggling might not have been wasted after all. Your child might have developed a very useful set of life skills that most of us struggle to learn.

Another Way to Compensate

As an aside, do you know another way to compensate for lack of depth perception? It’s called parallax. Close one eye and hold a pencil up in front of you with another object behind it in the distance, say a lamp. Now, with one eye closed, move your head side to side and watch the pencil move in relation to the more distant object. You see how the pencil appears to move side to side farther relative to the lamp. Move the pencil all the way to arm’s length and move your head side to side, then pull it closer and do it again. See how the pencil moves farther relative to the lamp as you draw it closer.

Then, if you’re a teacher with certain kids who are always moving around in their seats, ask yourself if maybe they’re just working on a compensating mechanism to tell how far away you are from them. If these children have convergence problems, they’ll have poor depth perception, they’ll struggle with reading, and they just might be moving their heads around more than other students just so they can judge where everything and everybody is situated. Just a thought.

A Visual Learner?

Ironically, because a child is developing these compensating visual skills, he could perform exceptionally well on tests of visual-spatial awareness. When he does this, he will be labeled a “visual learner” when, actually, he is anything but a visual learner. In fact, it is his poorly developed visual system that is holding him back, and forcing him to develop these compensating vision skills to deal with the everyday world.

As I said, all of this is speculation on my part. But it fits the patterns I see and it’s consistent with what I have learned about convergence problems. Take it all with the proverbial grain of salt, if you wish, but I think there’s probably something to it.

The next section will cover an interesting study done on treatment of convergence insufficiency. Of particular interest is the questionnaire listing symptoms of convergence insufficiency which I’ve linked in the section so that you can access it directly