[blindkid] Notes on Eye Poking

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Tue May 1 02:45:09 UTC 2012

Hi all,
To address the questions about eye poking: Over the years I have
conversed with several parents dealing with eye poking as well as
several blind teens and adults who are recovering pokers themselves
(in different stages of recovery). Unfortunately despite all this
discussion and sharing of ideas I don't know of any easy solutions. I
do, however, believe that eye poking is quite a different animal from
rocking, spinning and other such "blindisms" even though it often gets
lumped in with the others. Rocking, etc. often serves as a form of
expression as it appears when one is excited or aroused in some way,
but eye poking tends to be a more constant habit and is done when one
is bored or even while sleeping. It also appears to be much more
common with certain eye conditions and in fact, a majority of eye
pokers i've met or talked with have LCA (aka Lebers) although I admit
my sample is biased and it may very well be part of other eye
conditions too. Based on my nonscientific observation, it seems like
eye poking has a much more primitive basis and that it satisfies some
neurological need within the eyes or between the eyes and brain. It
also appears very early in infancy, before movement patterns are
developed and certainly before a baby is capable of much learned
behavior. Because of its primitive nature, the habit is extremely hard
to completely and permanently get rid of, which is why there are so
many "recovering" pokers out there (including myself).
It is definitely possible for children to learn to reduce the
frequency of poking or to stop it in certain kinds of situations, such
as in public. This happens through old-fashioned parenting, reminding,
rewarding good behavior, etc. just as kids can learn to sit still and
to say please and thank you. However, as with rocking, rewards and
reminders don't address the underlying need that's driving the
behavior. Unfortunately we haven't really figured out what that need
is or how to address it. I do know of one young man who figured out
that he could stop himself completely from poking by pressing on a
certain spot on his brow, and I have also heard of people teaching
themselves to squint or flex their eye muscles instead of poking. I
suspect the real solution will be a special pair of glasses that puts
pressure on the nerves that are craving stimulation. We need an
inventor among us who is really motivated to tackle this problem. :)
In the meantime, I do think glasses may be a wise deterrent attempt
even if a child reaches under them, because they can help encourage
awareness of the behavior and make it easier to consciously stop in
certain situations. Even if not eliminating the poking completely,
reducing the frequency will help keep eyes healthy. While I think the
claims that years of poking will lead to grotesquely sunken eyes are
old-wives' tales, I am pretty sure that too much can increase the risk
of certain kinds of eye complications in adulthood (such as corneal
shape changes) and, in my own experience, can cause plain old
Finally, I think it's important to address the issue, but to do it in
a positive and nonemotional way whenever possible. Sometimes parents
can get really emotionally worked up about their children's eye poking
and their inability to stop it. Sometimes I worry that these extreme
reactions come from the fact that poking reminds them of their
children's blindness and the fact that their children's eyes are
"different". We should teach children that eye poking is not a good
idea both because it's not good for their future eye health and
because it looks weird to sighted people around them. However, we also
want them to learn to accept the fact that their eyes are different
and to perceive their blindness as a positive part of their identity.
Although I think my parents handled my own poking well for the most
part, there were a few times when I felt their reactions to my poking
were really reactions to my blindness itself. As adults we understand
the difference between rejecting a child's blindness and rejecting a
child's blindisms, but a young child with a concrete mind won't
necessarily see that distinction. It's important not to take it
personally if you and your child don't find an easy or consistent
resolution to the poking. I also don't think it's productive to make
kids feel ashamed of something that is at least partially out of their
control. I remember reading a story written by a blind woman whose
mother made her write "I will not poke my eyes" five hundred times in
a row and she felt like a horrible person but didn't understand what
she had done or how she could avoid doing it again. We don't want kids
to feel inadequate because they are unable to control a behavior they
don't understand or are even aware of most of the time. Start slow,
explain why the poking is bad, offer alternatives and eventually
empower your child to gain more and more control. This won't happen
right away and they may never gain full awareness or full control, but
they can definitely develop a healthy ownership of their eyes and be
motivated to make an effort to keep their fingers out of them. If you
can be patient enough to wait for this to happen, then eye poking will
eventually become a manageable issue without being a source of shame
or contention.

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