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Thursday, February 01, 2007

'Shenkin Glasses': Real and political dyslexia

Back in 2005 I finally admitted to myself that I hadn't been able to read small print for several years.  It had happened so gradually that I hadn't felt compelled to act... but when I couldn't read the instructions for one of the kid's electronic gadgets I finally threw in the towel and picked up a set of cheap, off-the-shelf reading glasses.

I have also mentioned on several occasions that I have lived most of my life with mild dyslexia which has made reading of any sort a chore.

Anyway, the drug-store reading glasses weren't much of a success.  Sure, they allowed me to see the small print again, but they also seemed to oddly intensify my dyslexia and even gave me headaches after long reading sessions.  The result was that I pretty much gave up reading for pleasure and only hauled out the reading glasses when I absolutely had to decipher something small.

A few months ago I finally decided to bite the bullet and get prescription reading glasses.

Now every eye exam I've ever had has lasted no more than 10 minutes, and has gone pretty much like this:

"Read this line... read that line... cover your left ye... now your right... don't mind these drops (although they might make you look like a junkie for a an hour or so)... put your chin right here... just a little puff of air... nope, no glaucoma here... sorry, no pot for you (ha ha)... OK, we're done.  You have healthy eyes... but you'll probably need reading glasses in a few years... but no more than a prescription of .75 or 1.00... have a nice day."

So this time when I went to a friend / neighbor's optometry practice in Jerusalem to be tested I was expecting more of the same.  I was shocked by the thoroughness of the exam as well the array of tools and tests that were employed.  The whole exam took almost an hour!

When we were almost done my friend sat down across from me and handed me a page of text and asked me to read it to myself while he watched my eyes closely.  When I finished he asked me if I had ever had problems with dyslexia or other difficulties reading.

I was a little shocked at the question and answered in the affirmative... giving him the full run-down on my difficulties in school and how I found reading to be a cumbersome and exhausting activity.  But at the end of my description I asked him what my dyslexia had to do with my eyes since it was a mental problem.

He smiled knowingly and said, "Is that so?  Here, let's try something."

With that, he popped a couple of lenses into the enormous 'monster glasses' he had used while testing my eyes and handed me the page of text again.

I nearly fell off the chair as my eyes raced effortlessly down the lines of text.  Instead of wrestling with each word and plodding through a sticky quagmire of individual letters I was suddenly seeing whole words flash by in crisp, obvious sequence.

I put down the page and stared at him.

I must have had a pretty comical expression on my face because he laughed out loud.  He told me that my problem with reading and dyslexia wasn't mental, but rather was caused by my eyes not being able to perfectly align and focus on the same point in space.   Not only that... he said it was not at all uncommon.

He explained that when looking at things in the distance, perfect eye alignment isn't crucial since the dominant and non-dominant eye can pass their respective images to the brain without much perceived shift in the picture you see.  But when focusing on something like a page of printed text a few inches in front of one's face, this struggle between the eyes for dominance and the misalignment of the focal point becomes much more noticeable and can wreak havoc with the final image the brain wants to 'show' you.

He confirmed what other optometrists had told me; that my eyes were quite healthy and that I only needed a mild prescription for reading.  But he said that he wanted to put a prism in one lens to bring my left eye into better alignment with my right for reading.  I eagerly agreed and walked out of his office walking ten feet off the ground (and not because of the drops)!

Now came the daunting task of selecting frames. 

I hadn't liked anything in the display case in his office so I promised him I would find a set of frames elsewhere and bring them to him so he could have my lenses ground. 

The problem was that for anyone just starting to wear glasses in middle age, pretty much all glasses look odd in the mirror.  I didn't want anything too big.... but most of the smaller frames sat too high on my nose and forced me to either rest my chin on my chest to look through them (while holding a book in a typical reading posture)... or to lift the reading material to an uncomfortable level in front of my face. 

Someone suggested 'half-lenses' (granny glasses), but I rejected those out of hand.  It's bad enough being 45... I didn't want to add 15 or 20 years to my appearance overnight.  So the search continued.

Finally I wandered into a trendy eye-glass emporium in the German Colony and noticed a set of small frames on display.  They were fairly simple... perfectly round... wire frames.  The nice thing was that the bridge was fairly wide which allowed them to sit relatively low  This allowed my eyes to look directly through them at an object held out in a comfortable reading position in front of me and a few inches below my chin.

Just my luck, the frames were made by a trendy designer (Jacob Jensen) and would normally have required a small mortgage to purchase.  But the shop owner told me that almost everyone wanted the color-tinted versions and that if I wanted the display pair (a simple bronze tone set) he would give them to me for a very reasonable price.  We 'haandeled' a bit and arrived at a price we could both live with and I walked out with my new frames.


On the way home, however, I realized that Zahava would almost certainly hate them (yes folks, I bravely/stupidly picked them out without her).  Zahava had been pushing for me to get a pair of larger rectangular frames... and she had rejected out-of-hand any of the less-obtrusive models I had tried on for her in the past.

When I walked into the house with my new frames on, the first thing my lovely wife said to me was, "Hey, look who's here... it's Yoko Ono!"  It just went downhill from there.

Anyway, I stood my ground and gave the frames to my optometrist friend to have the prescription ground, and eagerly awaited their return.

I got them back just before I left for my India trip and was delighted to find that I could now read so fast that my brain seemed to be literally struggling to keep up with this new, unexpected rush of information.  Even though it was an overnight flight to India, I stayed up and read the entire way.  I read every evening in my hotel, and I read on every flight within India.... as well as on the flight home. 

It was such a wonderful and liberating experience to be able to effortlessly read that at first I didn't take much notice of the comments I got. 

The Indian's with whom I met unanimously loved the glasses as they thought they looked like those favored by the late Mahatma Ghandi.  But the real eye-opener was the reaction I got from my coworkers when I returned to Israel.  A few people confused me by asking me if I had 'switched sides'.  Another person jokingly asked if I had moved out of the 'shtahim' (territories).  Still another asked rather bluntly when I had become such a 'lefty'.

But the asimon finally dropped when a young Tel Aviv resident I work with (the sort of woman who makes middle aged men involuntarily suck in their gut when she passes) sat down across from me at lunch one day and complimented me on my 'funkie Shenkin glasses'. 

For those outside the country, Shenkin is much more than the name of a well-known street in Tel Aviv.  It is the epicenter of a very specific liberal, sophisticated, ultra-hip Israeli mentality.  This pretty young woman had taken what I considered to be stodgy, old-world frames and plunked them down in the heart of Israel's premier café district.  Suddenly, all the previous comments I'd gotten made sense.

I don't think it is much of a secret to anyone living here in Israel that various religious and non-religious factions adhere to fairly specific 'uniforms'.  At a glance it is pretty easy to figure out if someone is religious/observant or not... and to what 'camp' they belong.  One look at the type of clothing and hair style (or type of hair covering) gives away pretty quickly to the casual observer where the person falls along the religious spectrum... not to mention on which side of the green line they probably reside.

To some extent, accessories are also a dead give-away as to an Israeli's political leanings. I accidentally found this out with my new frames... frames that seemed to be sending out confusing messages to the casual observer. 

Apparently my check shirts, kippah and pistol clashed with my 'Shenkin glasses'.  Who knew?

People, both at work and at play, suddenly didn't know quite how to pigeon-hole me.   Personally, I couldn't care less... I now have the incredible ability to read whatever and whenever I want.  If this means that others have a little trouble 'reading' me... I figure that's their problem.  :-)


Posted by David Bogner on February 1, 2007 | Permalink


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Mazel Tov on your improved vision...sounds like it was an amazing experience.

Look forward to seeing you with the glasses on :)

Posted by: Safranit | Feb 1, 2007 1:23:27 PM

Confounding expectations is a goal, not a side-effect.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Feb 1, 2007 1:53:24 PM

I say confuse the heck out of 'em and enjoy every moment of it! If they need to pigeonhole people, too bad for them.

Posted by: Rahel | Feb 1, 2007 2:48:10 PM

That's so great, David. I'm thrilled that you're able to really get into reading. I just wonder how you've been doing all the blog research online that you do, for your posts. Or is reading on a computer screen somehow different/easier?
I wanna see a pic of you in the new specs!

Posted by: val | Feb 1, 2007 3:06:46 PM

Wow! Amazing.

Congrats on the new glasses and new vision.

Posted by: amechad | Feb 1, 2007 3:27:38 PM

There is no question that you are funky. The only question is why you spell it "funkie". You are a zany iconoclast! Congratulations!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 1, 2007 4:36:56 PM

So, which one explains your shooting scores, the dyslexia or the "Sheinkin" glasses?

Just kidding. :)

Posted by: JoeSettler | Feb 1, 2007 5:14:07 PM

I can't believe your dyslexia was a vision problem! All parents should have to read about this!
Congrats on the new glasses.

Posted by: SaraK | Feb 1, 2007 5:15:28 PM

I wore glasses for twenty years and then had the good fortune to have lasik done.

Somewhere in my garage I have three old pairs that look very similar to the frames you bought.

Maybe I'll try to find them so that the next time your Sox lose miserably and you destroy your glasses in a fit of rage you'll have a back up pair.


P.S. On behalf of the Dodgers I thank Boston for taking JD Drew.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 1, 2007 6:20:57 PM

I have some fairly sophisticated glasses that make it possible for me to read off the computer screen or a book in my lap comfortably. They stay on my desk. The dang things are expensive and if I carry them around I lose them or scratch the lenses. They last for years if I keep them on the desk. Months if I start carrying them around.

I keep the cheap off the shelf readers in my pocket wherever I go and they suffice. If I will be on a plane with my laptop I will take my good glasses. Maybe if I think I will have to do any 'real' reading I'll take my good glasses out of the house.

You will find that you don't want to be wearing your glasses around. If you do you will start sticking them in your shirt pocket without their case and then ... whoops. Gone. Or stepped on. Or at least scratched.

Plus you look like a goon with them on anyway. Yoko.

Posted by: Scott Fleming | Feb 1, 2007 7:02:38 PM

There is a better site to describe shenkins special atmosphere:

Posted by: YAELI | Feb 1, 2007 7:41:54 PM

That was pretty funny. A good (or bad) example of stereotyping in Israeli society.

Posted by: mother in israel | Feb 1, 2007 9:15:44 PM

It's probably completely unrelated, but had you thought of asking this guy to check out Gilad's vision? Wonderful post. I wish more parents of children with reading difficulties would check out their children's vision.

Posted by: Judy | Feb 1, 2007 9:17:53 PM

We 'haandeled' a bit ...

As in Yiddish? To trade, to deal, to bargain?

It sounds like you dinged a bit.

Anyhoo, congratulations on the dyslexia thing. I remember when I got my first reading glasses I finally realized what a difference they made. I stayed up all night reading. For the first time in years. It was wonderful.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Feb 2, 2007 12:46:21 AM

Wow... judging a book by the glasses... never heard of that one before!

Posted by: Irina | Feb 2, 2007 12:47:48 AM

Hi David,

Yoko Ono... snicker! LOL :)

On a more serious note, I have similar glasses... oh well, the absent-minded professor look isn't so bad.

I really need to make Aliyah... all of the funky Schenken girls would LUUUUV me!


Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Feb 2, 2007 1:26:51 AM

Mazel tov! i've worn glasses for years and each time i get the correct lenses, i feel so blessed because i can see!

Now as for the confusing "typology", i love it. i love when people can't look at me and pin me into a stereotype. Makes me a little bubbly inside. :-)

Posted by: mercurial scribe | Feb 2, 2007 2:22:11 AM

Great news, Trep, and wrapped as I expected in a neat and clean Aesopian anecdote.

I am very happy for your unexpected and new-found blessing.

Consider my lop-sided smile, for the nonce, to be not-at-all "wry."

And permit me a clumsy, goyisher "mazel tov," no doubt mangled in pronunciation, but not feeling.

P.S. My Bohemian daughter (23) finds the best frames at thrift stores, and then has them fitted with lenses, clever girl. Of course, she has the air about her of Audrey Hepburn, so she can get away with things most of us mortal 40-somethings cannot.

Posted by: Wrymouth | Feb 2, 2007 5:49:44 AM

Thankfully you did not choose an Israeli version of BCGs. Does the Israeli military have equivalent of Navy BCGs?

Posted by: susan | Feb 2, 2007 6:50:15 AM

"It's probably completely unrelated, but had you thought of asking this guy to check out Gilad's vision? Wonderful post. I wish more parents of children with reading difficulties would check out their children's vision."

Youchers, that's no joke. A good friend's daughter was nearly labeled mentally retarded because she couldn't see the testing materials well enough to give appropriate responses. Then some kind soul thought to suggest that the youngster's eyes be checked. She's now going for her master's. Seriously, take Judy's advice and have the same optometrist check Gilad's eyes. If there's any chance that he might have the same problem that you have, you could be saving him years of problems with reading.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Feb 2, 2007 8:00:58 AM

I found the first part of the story even more fascinating, as my sister-in-law is an optometrist who plans on opening a center for vision therapy. She is a firm believer that many problems such as dyslexia or even ADD are actually caused by vision problems, and intervention - particularly early on - can make it much easier for people to see and read. (ADD is sometimes caused by kids who aren't diagnosed properly with vision problems, and their frustration/troubles with school et al can cause them to at out.)

It's nice to read of a person's firsthand account of this working!

Posted by: Ezzie | Feb 2, 2007 8:53:25 AM

how bout a picture of you in your new specs?
Dry Bones
Israel's Political Comic Strip Since 1973

Posted by: Yaakov Kirschen | Feb 2, 2007 11:47:18 AM

"People, both at work and at play, suddenly didn't know quite how to pigeon-hole me. Personally, I couldn't care less... I now have the incredible ability to read whatever and whenever I want. If this means that others have a little trouble 'reading' me... I figure that's their problem. :-)"

Totally beautiful.

and congrats on the new reading comfort!

Posted by: Alan | Feb 2, 2007 5:52:55 PM

Congratulations! Similar thing happened when my younger son got glasses - his reading improved quite a bit.

About 6 months ago I went from wearing glasses to wearing contact lenses. People looked at me, puzzled at the difference, wondering just what had changed... it was fun to see reactions.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Feb 2, 2007 6:44:18 PM

Want to meet for a latte, yoko? :-)

So glad your vision issues were solved! I am also one of those who recalls the first time the right little glass spheres were inserted into that rather large machiine in the eye dr's office...seeing clearly for the first time when you never fully understood what you were missing is a fantastic experience! Read on!!!

Posted by: nrg | Feb 2, 2007 6:58:59 PM

Oh, and although it's already been pointed out... you can't be funky if you can't spell it! ;-)

Posted by: nrg | Feb 2, 2007 7:00:40 PM

Mazal Tov... Im glad that you can finally be more comortable... ( and the glasses are very nice).. it is a bit dissapointing that no one picked up the problem a little earlier.....

Posted by: David Zlotnick | Feb 2, 2007 7:10:09 PM

FYI, I'm pretty sure that "funkie" is the "white guy" spelling of "funky."

It also sounds like a great name for a lap-dog, come to think of it.

Posted by: Wrymouth | Feb 2, 2007 9:03:55 PM

Wow, that's amazing. I can't believe an optometrist never found that out before, your whole life could have been so much easier. Oh well... I'm impressed you're able to write as well as you do, even after being "dyslexic" for so long.

And so what if you look confusing, confuse people. It's fun. :)

Posted by: Chantyshira | Feb 2, 2007 10:51:25 PM

Any chance you could tell us the name and location of this great optometrist for those of us who live close to you?

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Feb 3, 2007 6:54:11 PM

I will be passing this on to David who also thinks he suffers from a mild case of Dsylexia.

Thanks for the eye-opener.

Posted by: jaime | Feb 4, 2007 12:18:53 AM

It makes me so sad that you had such trouble reading for so long. If I couldn't read, I think I would get very depressed - it is that important to me! Glad to hear that this problem is solved.

Posted by: westbankmama | Feb 4, 2007 9:46:47 AM

wow. a lifetime of difficulty the fault of a shoddy eye doctor.
i would be really frustrated that i had to go thru all sorts of tzures and psycho probs for no reason.

Posted by: Fred | Feb 4, 2007 3:19:04 PM

Fascinating! I forwarded this to my wife the doctor, and she found this:

1: Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd. 1992 May;200(5):614-9.

[Further observations of dyslexia patients with prism correction]
[Article in German]

Pestalozzi D.

Augenarzt FMH, Olten.

Report on 370 dyslexics, whereof 281 can be evaluated. The heterophoric cases
were all corrected by Haase's method of prismatic binocular full correction.
There are mainly esophorias but only little exophorias and strabisms. 3% are
orthophoric. Visual acuity improved as well as sensory adaptations. The latter
were mainly fixation disparities II. 82 operated cases resulted in a residual
angle of 3+/-3 prism-diopters measured by Polatest. The influence on dyslexia is
very good in 11%, good in 60%. 17% showed no influence on dyslexia but got rid
of asthenopic symptoms. Only 12% failed. Good results are seen already after
three months up to one year and in some cases even after 2 or 3 years. As
optical and surgical corrections do not heal the dyslexia, it is discussed how
to explain the obtained good results. The author's opinion is that prismatic
corrections may save energy as the patients have no longer to compensate their
heterophoria themselves. Thus they dispose on more energy e.g. for understanding
of the text they are reading.

PMID: 1614172 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Related Links

[Treatment of dyslexia with occlusion or prisms] [Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd.
1992] PMID:1614169

[Sensory and current political weaknesses of prismatic correction with the
Polatest] [Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd. 1994] PMID:8051876

Long-term stability of prism correction of heterophorics and heterotropics;
a 5 year follow-up. Part I: Heterophorics. [J Am Optom Assoc. 1990] PMID:2370416

[Results of full binocular correction versus conventional methods] [Klin
Monatsbl Augenheilkd. 1991] PMID:1886387

[Surgical correction of esophorias] [Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd. 1980]

Posted by: dov weinstock | Feb 4, 2007 11:29:10 PM

I would second the request for the name/address of the optometrist--we have two dyslexics in the family.

The whole uniform thing can catch one unawares--in my first year of law school in SF, I was propositioned by another women in the girl's bathroom--apparently lavender (the color of my bookbag) was a "code" for being a lesbian! Color me clueless!

Posted by: aliyah06 | Feb 7, 2007 9:15:16 AM

Hey David.
This was interesting.
I've got a proposal for you related to this post.

Email me if your interested.

Posted by: Andy | Feb 7, 2007 12:07:28 PM

In the 90s even I had a pair of 'Igoladim' (anyone remember the Comedy Store?)

But seriously a good optometrist is worth their weight in gold. Ours is excellent and several of our friends have been saved from unnecessary operations and/or drug prescriptions by paying him a visit.

On congratulations on your new found love of reading. Will there be any book reviews appearing in the blog? :0)

Posted by: Esther | Nov 24, 2010 9:47:36 AM

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