Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A cognitive schema for seeing what is before your eyes

At age 48 it has now been about eight years since I noticed deterioration in my vision. It was 10 years ago when people began to mention to me the pitfalls of growing older and how at around age 40 a marked decline will become apparent. Whether a truism or a self-fulfilling prophecy, sure enough some gray hairs appeared on my head, my cycling speed was down from 20 years earlier and . . . I started going blind.

It was clearly my perception that my vision had deteriorated significantly. Texts that had once been clearly legible at a half foot from my face were still blurry at twice, now thrice, that distance.

Obtaining corrective lenses has been relegated to the level of importance near that of getting draperies for my windows. It would be an admission that my body is deteriorating which is something I vigorously resists. Nonetheless, I have pledged that by age 50 I will succumb to admitting that the forces of nature have bested my will to the contrary and will relent by using eyeglasses.

Towards that end, last week when presented with an opportunity for a free eye screening conducted by members of the Lions' Club I availed myself. I quickly rattled off the first six lines of letters accurately until encountering some ambiguities among the characters on the seventh line. When all was said and done my right eye showed a deficiency on the near-sighted screen registering 20/30. All others were 20/20.

This revelation sparked a thought about self-perception and why so many parents get blindsided in a child custody case.

Essentially, parents perform their own fitness analysis as I had done with my eyesight. This leaves them susceptible to their bias which may find its roots in culture, upbringing or personal experience.

When my son was in elementary school he participated in the regional science fair. As we were walking through the exhibit hall I spotted a display that would be of interest to him. I read the title and pointed it out. Repeatedly! As we walked toward it from four aisles away he was finally able to see the title which I referenced. That was at a distance of one aisle. When we returned to home I replicated the scenario using various texts. I could read at a distance four times greater than him.

I quizzed him about various aspects of sight and behaviours which revealed that he was accommodating his visual deficiency. His accommodations includes actions such as choosing to sit near the front of the classroom or looking out the side windows of the car rather than the front.

He had no indication that his eyesight was deficient as it was the only vision he had ever known. He indicated that his eyesight had not deteriorated and that he assumed everyone else saw as he did. It was after I mentioned it to his mother, the custodial parent, that an objective analysis was performed by an optometrist and eyeglasses were obtained.

In child custody cases parents may be subjected to the same type of cognitive deficiency. The social comparison theory postulates that we have an internal drive to objectively evaluate ourselves in relation to others. This laudable goal suffers from a few psychological pressures and thus is impractical. First, is that our social network tends to be reflective of ourselves. We tend to live among, work with and socialize with people who have similar values and demographic characteristics as ourselves. That is we seek similarity and avoid conflict. Then we must confront that the tendency to compare oneself to another person decreases as the difference between their opinions and abilities becomes more divergent. In other words, if someone is much different from you, you are less likely to compare yourself to that person. Also, the self-esteem pressure, which may be heightened during a custody battle, can lead to downward social comparisons; "at least I don't beat my child."

But there is no objective evaluation method of parental performance that calculates fulfillment of parenting objectives. Certainly there are statutory requirements but those are limited to proscribing neglect. CPS/DCS has a broader parenting rubric but again, it serves the same goal. In child custody proceedings, and parenting generally, it is serving the best interest of the child which is the objective. How that is to be measured is still highly subjective and controverted though.

I could -- although I haven't and won't -- compose a list of objectives for parents that serve the best interest of the child which would bring one into better favour with the presiding judicial officer on the case. However, that would suffer from multiple dynamics. Foremost is the individuality of the child. To demonstrate this I will use "provide a safe living environment" as one of the best interest items.

In rearing my son I removed any of the electrical outlet covers, door latches, or other "safety devices" that his mother had installed which were usually employed in the child warehousing environment where she worked. This is because those devices do not provide a safe environment. They are only obstructions to hazards. The safe environment is one in which he is knowledgeable about the hazards. Thus, his safety is transient -- it goes with him.

I demonstrated to him what was appropriate to plug into an outlet and the polarization of current. Likewise, I demonstrated what was inappropriate by creating shorts resulting in startling sparks and bangs. I also demonstrated on myself the effects of lye and why he should not mess with household chemicals. This may seem to some to be expecting cognition beyond the ability of a child under age three years but this is a guy who since that time never put anything in a VHS/DVD/CD player that was not an appropriate medium. Nor has he handled the media in a way that would render playback less than optimal.

So, as you can see, the objective "provide a safe living environment" is not an objective measure because of the subjectivity in its application. This presents the problem; can an objective formula of analysis for parenting behaviours be constructed?

I postulate that there is a measure of parenting behaviour although aspects of it may be difficult to attribute to a particular parent. The ultimate objective of parenting is to rear the child to reproductive maturity with the skills, knowledge, and general well-being sufficient to subsequently provide the same to his or her progeny.

To this end it is necessary to provide the child with a sense of security across a range of applications. These include food, housing, physical well-being, and the ongoing presence of trustworthy caretakers which may be referred to as emotional well-being .

When a child is in want of any of these domains then the result is anxiety. Anxiety can be expressed through a broad spectrum of behaviours or symptoms. Being knowledgeable about the manifestations of anxiety can provide a report to a parent, or any other evaluator, as to whether the child is receiving care by fit parents. Filtering the data can point to whether the deficiency in care is by a particular parent.

While there do exists objective measures for eyesight it was not facilitation of those devices which led me to discover the vision deficiency of my son. Rather, it was observation and detection of the symptoms. Similarly, when a child is deficient in proper parenting, symptoms will be present. Although it is unlikely that typical parents will be able to evaluate and draw accurate conclusions from the symptoms expressed by the child they shall nonetheless be able to document them. A third-party professional will be able to interpret the data and offer a platform of strategies to be employed by either or both parents to effectuate a reduction in the level of anxiety experienced by the child.

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©2008, 2014 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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