Thursday, January 19, 2012

All in the Family

Although the focus of the blog is on my daughter Meredith, I wanted to tell you about my son Tyler as well.  Although (so far) Tyler does not seem to possess the same visual processing style as Meredith and my husband with the filing cabinets and assistants, he certainly shows signs of having pretty exceptional visual skills.

When Tyler was six, we walked into the living room to see him quietly drawing away on a piece of paper.  He had been watching Star Wars, but paused it on a frame of Yoda.  When I looked at what Tyler was drawing, I was shocked.  This is what he drew:

Now, I realize I'm Tyler's Mama and as such, I'm hugely biased.  But even trying to keep my objective hat on, I think this drawing is pretty remarkable for a six-year old.  I'm not sure too many adults could draw that off the tv with such symetry.

Here is another example of a Pokemon character the Tyler copied from a book at the same age:

And just today, Tyler told me that he does in fact have some colors for letters and days of the week, indicating that he is also a synesthete (i.e., someone who experiences synesthesia) like Meredith (see this earlier post on Meredith's synesthesia).  Just for the record, Tyler said his days of the week are colored as follows: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  He described his letter "a" as illustrated below.  Tyler spent time with me on the computer to get the turquoise background, the font for the letter "a", and shadow on the letter just right.  I find it interesting that it is three-dimensional.  As with most synesthetes, the colors and details are very, very specific.  That's usually how I know that someone is actually "seeing" the color and not just making it up. 

I'm going to keep this as a record and see if it remains stable over time.  If you are a synesthete, you too can record your synesthetic experience for a large study called the Synesthesia Battery that Dr. David Eagleman is conducting at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. 

I once corresponded with a doctural student in England who studied at what age synesthesia emerges in children.  She found that it seems to emerge in the early elementary years.  This could be why Tyler never said he had colored letters before, but now he does--he's now in Second Grade.

This discussion about Tyler illustrates two points that I want to share with you:

     (1) Visual thinking is genetic, and
     (2) Sibling IQs are closer than you think.

Dr. Cheri Florance says that brainprints -- or basically the way you think -- is genetic to some degree.  It is very commonplace that if there is one predominantly visual thinker in a family, there will be many more. Take my family, for example. My father was an electrical engineer and designed nuclear plants. My mother was an English teacher, but also is a talented watercolor painter. My oldest brother is a brilliant engineer and mathemetician as well, and my second oldest brother is a talented architect (hello visual-spatial talent!). I have had various positions and interests, but have been drawn to the visual arts as well with photography ( My youngest sister has found her niche in nature study and also has various visual arts as hobbies (  Those weren't shameless plugs--just wanted to give you something to look at!

Doctors, engineers, mechanics, artists, hair stylists, graphic designers, computer programers, first responders--these are all examples of highly visual career paths.  It is interesting to look at people's hobbies as well.  If you have a highly visual person in your family, look at a little closer at the family picture to see if you see this trait more often than not.

To my second point, Dr. Linda Silverman (the person who coined the original term "visual-spatial") explains that siblings generally are within 5 - 10 points of each other's IQ scores (go here for more information).  I mention this because I think it is very common for parents to say that one of their children is gifted and the other is not.  Dr. Silverman discusses how often the second child will have very similar traits, but because they compete with the first-born child to some degree, their gifted traits may manifest themselves differently.  It is worth giving your "non-gifted"children a second look!

A note on "gifted."  Who really knows what gifted means.  There are many different definitions by many different institutions.  I don't like to toss that word around and proclaim to the world that I have "gifted kids."  What I have found, however, is a pretty high correlation with what I'm reading on the "overexcitabilities" and high-intensity nature of gifted kids and my own kids.  I have found the literature on the emotional needs of the gifted to be extremely helpful in dealing with my kids.  It is really in this context that I talk about gifted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on the Big Screen

Meredith has always had difficulty getting to sleep at night.  It is clear to me that once she settles down, all the happenings from the day occupy her mind and keep her awake.  Now, I'm sure everyone has a similar experience of reviewing their day when they head off to sleep, but if you think in pictures, I think sometimes it can be troubling.  If Meredith has seen or experienced anything remotely scary, she truly holds those images in her mind.  That's why we are beyond cautious about what Meredith watches on tv or the movies.  Her tolerance for scary images is extremely low and they will predictably come up as an issue again when she goes to sleep. 

Meredith drew me this picture to illustrate what it is like for her when she goes to sleep.  It shows Merebith and Dogot sitting in the theater seats watching Meredith's thoughts scroll across the big screen. Dogot's seat (second from the left) just has the armrests because obviously he can't sit down. "He backs in to sit down," Meredith tells me. Merebith (far left) wears 3D glasses and has a lasso to catch the thought going across the movie screen that Meredith wants to think about.  You'll see that the thoughts going across the screen in this picture include from left to right: Meredith's heartbeat, her friend Naoreen, lunch, tests, candy, our dog Zelda, and a pedicure with Naoreen.

I Speak Pictures

During the period directly following my discovery of Meredith's extreme way of visual thinking, I continued to unearth more and more details. She had said that she had pictures for every word, in addition to every number, every equation, and more. At one point, she told me that the reason I always had to tell her to "spit it out" was because she had to translate her pictures into words. (No parenting guilt there, by the way.)

So, one evening we were out at a restaurant for dinner and during our conversation, we were talking about an Internet game that Meredith and her brother play. During the conversation I asked her, "Are they on the same account?" I saw her hesitate just slightly and quickly asked her, "Did you just see pictures when I asked you that?" She said, "Yeah. I saw a group of people for 'they,' a butterfly for 'same,' and a cash register for 'account.'" Fascinating...that was another jaw dropping event that really put things in perspective.

One thing I'm reminded of is what Ronald Davis describes in his book, "The Gift of Dyslexia."  Davis explains that there are no pictures for dolce sight words like, "the," "for," and "or."  In the example above, you'll see that Meredith did not describe any pictures for "are," "on," or "the," which were the other words in the sentence.  Davis learned through his own experience that sometimes when reading sight words that don't have pictures, one can become disoriented.  One part of the therapy that he developed has people use clay to come up with their own "pictures" for these sight words so that they will have something to "see" when reading and avoid becoming disoriented.

It is commonplace for picture thinkers, or "Mavericks," to make pictures for what they hear--particularly figures of speech. Just imagine what you would see in your mind if you thought in pictures when you heard things like, "Keep your eyes peeled," or "I sang my heart out," or "I threw my back out." No lie, I just asked Meredith if she had any other figures of speech that particularly bugged her besides peeling your eyes and she said "I sang my heart out" really grosses her out. Then I asked her about "I threw my back out" and she said, "Mom, stop! You just made Merebith throw up!"  She said that people really need to be careful about what they say around visual people because the pictures can be disturbing.  As if anyone would really censor themselves let alone even be aware of it.

The movie, "Temple Grandin" beautifully illustrates how visual thinkers "see" idioms. When Temple hears about "animal husbandry" for the first time, for example, she sees in her mind the classic painting of the farmer and his wife with the pictchfork, except the farmer is standing next to a cow wearing a bridal veil.  They did such a great job with that movie and if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it!

Guilt is a Tickle

Meredith was looking at the blog the other day and I was explaining about my post Conscience Visualized. After telling me that the picture on the post looked a lot like Merebith, she quickly corrected me and said, "Mom, that's not how my conscience works." Here it comes...I knew I was about to get schooled again in how her mind works. As with many things, it's easier for Meredith to draw me a picture than to explain it in words.  Here is what she drew:

The basic gist is that when there is a decision to be made where her conscience needs to be involved, she goes to a machine (first picture) and presses either the "yes" or the "no" button. The machine transmits the signal to "Nerd," the ugly guy on the other machine (second picture). Based on which button she pushed, a green or a red light will flash for Nerd to see. If the red light flashes, then Nerd makes a big, mechanical arm come out to tickle Merebith (third picture), which gives Meredith the feeling of guilt.

Meredith said that Merebith lives a very complicated life--a very mechanical life. Wait until you learn about all of the different machines Merebith uses. I'll dedicate another post to all the machines she's told me about, but one example that I love is the empathy machine.

The empathy machine is shaped like a shoe. When Meredith wants to "get in someone else's shoes," Merebith steps onto the machine, types in the name of a person whose shoes Meredith wants to get in, and then in a Star Trek-manner, once Merebith steps in the tube she transforms into that person and can feel their feelings.  You can see how she tried to draw Merebith transforming into another person.  There was more to the story about how the information got stored and transmitted but I can't remember it all (e.g., the text that got cut off on the bottom right reads, "Idea Storage Tank").  The empathy machine is my favorite machine to date.  Don't you just love that Merebith steps into a literal shoe?!?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Maverick Minds and Dr. Cheri Florance

Do You Think in Pictures, or...
Do You Think in Words?

One person drastically influenced my perception of visual thinkers forever: Dr. Cheri Florance.

When I discovered that Meredith thought in pictures, I of course went looking on the Internet for information. After looking at many things, I finally settled on contacting Dr. Florance because of her compelling work and the fact that like no one else, she was describing my daughter Meredith better than anyone else I found. Dr. Florance discovered a specific type of visual thinker. She calls them "Mavericks" or having a "Maverick Mind." First, I suggest watching this remarkable video about how Dr. Florance was able to reach her "unreachable, unteachable son."

On her website,, Dr. Florance describes The Maverick Mind:

The Maverick Mind, discovered by Dr. Cheri Florance, is a brain that functions at above the 99th percentile in the visual pathway and below the 1st percentile in the verbal pathway. Mavericks have such strong visual thinking that an enemy relationship has formed between picture thinking and words.

Child Mavericks
Often the symptoms of a Maverick are similar to symptoms of Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). When Mavericks are misdiagnosed from a symptom assessment, they can become frustrated and appear unmotivated. Some Mavericks are diagnosed as gifted in certain situations. When Mavericks are correctly identified and begin appropriate training, they often experience success very quickly.

Adult Mavericks
Adult mavericks often are very visually quick thinkers who can jump ahead to the bottom line or manage a crisis brilliantly. Conversations can seem too slow and unnecessary. We have seen hundreds of medical students who do a superior job performing in a lab and fail when taking a reading-writing test on the same subject, law students who are excellent in practicum and fail the bar exam, executives who can easily see solutions before staff members resulting in friction at work, and spouses that have trouble with intimacy because lingering over a conversation is counter intuitive to them. Visual thinkers are the best of the breed. The most famous thinkers throughout history, Einstein, Churchill, DaVinci, have been primarily visual.

Today, Dr. Florance works with Maverick children and adults all over the world through the "Brain Engineering" program that she developed. Meredith and I worked with Dr. Florance for about six months. Meredith made some significant progress and I received a top-grade education as well!

Lesson number one from Dr. Florance was that there are two main thinking pathways: verbal and visual. The verbal thinking pathway processes information using words and the visual thinking pathway processes information using pictures. Dr. Florance refers to those strong on the verbal side of the curve "Lexicoders" and those on the visual side of the curve "Opticoders." Mavericks are "Super-Opticoders" and can think in dynamic, video-like fashion.

Dr. Florance also explained to me that on a bell curve, most people use both verbal and visual thinking pathways, switching back and forth based on which one is most appropriate for the task at hand. The outliers (i.e., Mavericks) on the visual side are those who she terms Maverick Minds and the outliers on the verbal side could include those with Nonverbal (i.e., visual) Learning Disorder. I'll elaborate more on this in future posts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Brilliant Make-Believers

A recent commenter shared this story about purposefully creating a mental computer and backup filing system. Unfortunately, the commenter experienced failures with these efforts--the computer blue-screened during an exam and the little guy running the computer tripped on the cord and broke his leg during another exam, rendering him unable to access the back-up files.

I must admit that the cynical side of me thought that maybe this was a spoof of my blog (however, now I do believe the commenter is sincere). Both my husband and I had that initial cynical reaction because hearing things like this sounds totally made up. I see the same reaction on the faces of my friends when I tell them Meredith's stories. There's kind of a "Oh...Hmmm..." followed by an awkward silence. It just occurred to me, being slightly defensive thinking about those reactions, is that, News Flash--it IS made up! These mental scenes are the works of people with a gifted ability to think visually. People with amazing imaginations.

When I shared this commenter's story with my daughter, Meredith, she didn't skip a beat in responding. (She obviously hasn't had enough experience to build that cynical side!) She thought it was funny, but said that has happened to her as well. Apparently, Dogot frequently trips over computer cords. And like the commenter's little guy, Dogot once tripped and broke his wheel. Fortunately, when Dogot's parts arrive as he grows bigger, they come with spares so Merebith was able to repair his wheel.

The news to me of all of this was that Meredith even had computer files--I thought they were all paper files. She said that she got them in 2008. I wonder if that is when she first started using the computer...? And again like the commenter, she still keeps paper files for backup. Except, she said, that sometimes Dogot uses the papers to do his business. "Dogot has a business?" I asked with great curiosity. "No, not that kind of business. You know...his business...he is a dog, remember?" "Oh," I finally said. "Except that his 'business' is oil instead of pee know," she said. "When that happens, the information on the page is all blacked out and you can't see anything. Good thing is, though, Merebith has a machine called a "detector" and it can detect the words through the oil and then make, like, five new copies of the paper."

I have a feeling that this blog will continue as long as I have the energy to record her stories or at least for the next few years before the teenager in her tells me to bug off, because there seems to be no end to her imagination and the scenes, machines, and characters that occupy her mind. For now, I'll just enjoy the brilliance of it all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Memories That Are Too Real

I've been hearing different examples from Meredith lately about how she places a visual memory over top of what she sees in real time.  She says that when that happens, it is really blurry around the edges and then she sees the visual memory clearly in focus.  I think most of us probably have visual memory, but can you actually "place" that memory on top of what you're seeing in front of you? 

For example, today we were dropping my younger son off at Elementary School where Meredith used to attend.  I made a comment when we drove past the playground that she must think of her best friend everytime we passed it because they played together almost every day on that playground for six years.  She said that in fact, when she looks at this particular piece of playground equipment, she sees her and her best friend playing.  The way she described it kind of reminded me of "Wayne's World" for those of you who remember that skit from Saturday Night Live.  She thought it was funny that she could actually see herself there.

I asked her if she had other experiences like that and she said that she does.  This past year, we moved, but only two houses away.  Since we've moved, another family has moved into our old house and they have a little girl who Meredith has become friends with.  I imagined that when Meredith goes to play over at her old house, she probably has a lot of experiences like that because of her long history in that house.  Then she told me a funny story.

She said that when she was in the living room of the old house one day, she could see our old furniture there, kind of like how she could see her and her friend playing on the playground.  Except that she must have forgotten that the furniture really wasn't there anymore.  So when she went to sit down on the "virtual" couch, she actually fell on the floor.  Her friend laughed at her wondering why in the world she fell right in the middle of the floor. 

How in the world can you explain to someone what happened in that situation?  "Oh, I was just going to sit down on the couch that I saw there, but really isn't there anyore."  Makes me wonder how many times she has done things like that and I made some snarky comment to her wondering what she was up to.  And who in the world would think to ask, "Did you see something there from an old memory?"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Conscience Visualized

For more than a year I've known about Merebith and "The guy who wears khaki pants."  Meredith has described her little girl Merebith as a seperate person but basically herself.  Admittedly, thoughts of schizophrenia entered my mind, but they never really took a foothold.  I wasn't putting my head in the sand about it--it just didn't seem to fit with what I saw.  Although Merebith has her own persona, it doesn't actually seem as though she is a voice telling Meredith what to do.

It came to me the other day that Merebith is just like Meredith's conscience in visual form.  I learned from Dr. Cheri Florance how her son, who at an early age was using a completely visual way of thinking (he had no verbal skills and was diagnosed as deaf and mute), didn't have that internal voice that most people have.  In her book, "Maverick Mind," Dr. Florance explains in detail how in order to read, one has to be able to pronounce things in his mind.  For example, would you be able to know the difference when reading "chef" and "chat" if you couldn't voice the words in your mind?  From this lesson, I learned to question the concept of the internal voice in relation to visual thinking.

So, the way I see it (pardon the pun) is that perhaps Meredith at an early age had such a strong visual brain that instead of developing that little voice, she developed more of a little person.  And perhaps as she learned to speak, the little voice developed in the form of the little person talking.  We'll never likely know how it developed and I'm simply speculating here.  But what I know today is that Merebith is the vehicle by which Meredith talks to herself.

Here's one example.  As kids do, Meredith did kind of a dumb thing.  A few days ago she had gotten herself a snack and put it in a small bowl.  When she was finished, apparently she was playing with the bowl, holding it on her mouth by sucking it.  Admit it, you probably did this before.  As with most things, however, Meredith did it to the extreme and ended up breaking blood vessels just below her bottom lip.  Now she has a bruise there that looks like she has a soul patch--it's just a lovely look on a young girl.

The point of the story is that I asked Meredith at some point during the day if she ever argues with Merebith and she said yes and that in fact, she's mad at Merebith because for the last three days she has been rolling on the floor laughing and pointing at Meredith's chin.  Can't you just picture that?  If you, yourself, gave yourself a big bruise on your chin, wouldn't you give yourself a hard time just like Merebith?