[blindkid] Notes on Eye Poking

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Sat May 5 23:13:06 UTC 2012

Hi all,
I had corneal hydrops as a teen. According to my eye doctors, it can
occur if the outer part of the cornea becomes thin or uneven, allowing
tiny tears in the tissue that cause fluid to leak and, I think, get
trapped inside the cornea leading to inflammation. It is painful in
the short term (feels like you constantly have an eyelash floating in
your eye) but resolves on its own over a few months. I believe some
researchers have linked it to eye poking, but the evidence is hard to
interpret because eye poking co-occurs with certain eye conditions and
it is difficult to determine whether the hydrops is a direct
consequence of the condition itself or if it is caused by the poking.
The psychologist's observation is interesting. I really think we need
to do some research to find out what causes it or at least what
factors make it more likely to occur. Is it the result of certain eye
conditions? Boredom or restricted movement in infancy? Why do some
people break it or never start up at all and others don't? How much
poking is enough to cause permanent damage? We are all just guessing
here about these things and it would be great if we had some data to
work with. But eye poking isn't a major research priority and I think
many professionals and blind folks alike want to pretend it doesn't
exist or just stamp it out rather than thinking about why it exists
and what interventions might actually be effective. This is my bias as
a psychologist, but I really think that discovering the functional
reasons for any behavior is an important first step toward modifying
it, no matter how undesirable it may be. Racism is wrong, but
resolving it isn't as easy as just telling people not to be racist or
punishing those who discriminate or make racist comments. If it were
that easy the problems would no longer exist. In order to eradicate
racial prejudice and discrimination we have to figure out what
functions prejudices serve and then figure out how to intervene so
people can learn to satisfy the same functions in a better way.
Similarly, for eye poking, rocking, other "stims" and any other
behaviors we want to redirect, we know it's not always effective to
just say "no" or respond with a punishment. (Again, if that solution
worked, these issues would never come up). The more effective
solutions begin with a thoughtful understanding of where the behaviors
are coming from.

On 5/3/12, Barbara.Mathews at sce.com <Barbara.Mathews at sce.com> wrote:
> Arielle, your comments are very informative as usual and may help parents
> who are trying to deal with eye poking. I heard a psychologist who
> specializes in addressing habits and addictions say, after observing eye
> poking behavior, that he believed it is different from a habit and is
> neurologically based.
> It can cause real physical damage, specifically a very painful condition
> called corneal hydrops. My understanding is that this is a rupture in the
> cornea. The eye poking doesn't have to be extreme for this to happen. Also,
> deep sunken eyes are real side effect of eye poking if efforts aren't made
> to limit it.
> It's important for parents to understand how hard it is to control and yet
> to have respectful persistence about addressing it.
> ------Original Message------
> From: Arielle Silverman
> To: blindkid
> ReplyTo: Blind Kid Mailing List,	\(for parents of blind children\)
> Subject: [blindkid] Notes on Eye Poking
> Sent: Apr 30, 2012 7:45 PM
> [Sent by: blindkid-bounces at nfbnet.org ]
> 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
> irritation.
> 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.
> Best,
> Arielle
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