Living with Visual Agnosias
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May 15, 2014

Living in a World Where Sounds Have No Meaning & Visuals Have No Substance: Visual Agnosias

Author Paul Isaacs shares his personal perspective as someone who experiences agnosia

Prosopagnosia – Faceblindness
Faces are fragmented pieces of information. I see “bits and pieces,” never wholes of a “gestalt”. I cannot generalise faces nor process them in their totality. Imagine seeing a face as pixelated pieces of information, so that when you focus on one “bit” you “lose the other.”

Here are my strategies for remembering folks:

  • Sensing (this is beyond visual information I “sense” the presence of someone I know).
  • Patterns of movement – Like a gingerbread man hollowed out with only the “outline” showing, I can remember people by their movement
  • Sculpting faces and touching hair
  • Voice – I remember people by processing their voice.

Simultagnosia – Object Blindness & Semantic Agnosias – Meaning Blindness
As a child, I displayed behaviours of both a deaf and blind person. This is because of “sensory scrambling” and not due to any problems with my eyes or ears physically. Rather, it had to do with how my brain interpreted and “was seeing” visual information and “hearing” auditory information. I still live in this world today. Simultagnosia means I saw my whole visual field in bits and fragments. Semantic agnosia means I still see without meaning.
Here are strategies for navigating my environment:

  • Touching things to gain a “tactile form” of what it is – I have to touch to experience, as I have no visual memory.
  • As I child I would tap, sniff, lick, rub, mouth my environment to gain “meaning”. I would use my own salvia to sensitise my hands so I could feel if the object was rough or smooth and to “experience” its connectivity as whole externally.
  • Touching points of reference in a room
  • Patterning movements
  • Tinted Lenses – They give me the chance to experience visuals in “real-time” so I can move a flow in an environment.

Visual – Verbal Agnosia
As a child, when I gained functional speech, I could read text but retain next to no “meaning”. You can have this agnosia with (in my case) or without dyslexia.
Here strategies that I have learned as I have matured:

  • Clipped emails with key words emboldened and underscored so I get written meaning and can reply effectively
  • Sometimes, words/ paragraphs and information on forms (such as application forms) have to be verbally condensed so I get the “meaning”
  • Feeling words and letters – I worked with a college who helped me with my dyslexia by making letters out of clay. This helped me connect with letters in a tactile way.

About the Author
Paul Isaacs was diagnosed with Autism in 2010 and with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome in 2012. As a young child, he was non-verbal and appeared both deaf and blind. He didn't gain functional speech until between the ages of 7 and 8 years old. He went through mainstream school with misunderstandings and bullying from both students and teachers. The same happened during his early years in employment.
In 2010, he presented his first speech for a local company called Autism Oxford. He still works there as a trainer, speaker and consultant in Autism, offering presentations in the UK on a range of topics such as sensory issues, communication profiles, learning profiles, mental health, co-conditions, employment, education and more. Paul has released five books including his autobiography, Living Through The Haze as well as Life Through a Kaleidoscope, A Pocket Size Practical Guide for Parents, Professionals and People on the Autistic Spectrum, Understanding and Supporting Autistic Students in Specialized Schools, and Autism Inside Perceptions of Communication, Interaction, Thoughts and Feelings.