thoughtful seniorSoon after watching me work with her daughter Julie, 24, to help overcome Julie’s qualms about getting her driver’s license, Geri brought her husband, Gary, to see me.

Gary, 67, had experienced a health crisis last year that left him minimally disabled. Having completed physical therapy, he was beginning to drive the family car everywhere. Yet, when he came in to my office, he had failed a special driver’s exam twice due to his freezing up under stress. As sometimes happens with seniors who have been active all their lives and then experience a setback, he had become impatient and discouraged with himself, afraid that he might not regain previous abilities.

As I’d previously explained to Julie, our attention for driving is similar to our attention for reading comprehension, which is more than just focusing on words. Defensive driving requires this global scope of vision, not just near-point focus.

When Geri heard my thinking and saw the difference in Julie’s ability to keep her focus as she drove, she realized that this might be Gary’s issue, just as it had been their daughter’s.

I reminded Gary that driving requires continual reading of ever-changing situations. I pre-checked him on the ability to focus on the details of driving and simultaneously keep his perspective—which he was unable to do. With the goal of driving his car with a DMV examiner present, Gary role-played at steering the car into a right turn out of the DMV parking lot while being aware of the flow of cars coming from the left. In his concentration, he quickly became overfocused on steering, inhibiting his head-turning ability and losing track of himself within the traffic pattern. He experienced a delayed ability to listen, to think, and to plan ahead as to where he was going so that he could blend into the flow of traffic.

I then shared with him the widely accepted model of neural processing of vision, described by researchers Ungerleider and Mishkin as two visual systems working continually together for attentional skills: the what stream concerned with more focal object recognition (a ventral, or occipitotemporal system) and the where stream concerned with more global spatial abilities (a dorsal, or occipitoparietal system). Without both streams working together, one’s depth perception is compromised and it’s hard to hold the “big-picture” or ambient awareness that is the context for anticipating possibilities and, in this case, defensive driving.

An in-depth pre-check for tracking across his visual midline revealed that he was inhibiting ambient information on his left side as he looked to the right, depending for information solely on the focal object-recognition stream on his right side. He wasn’t integrating both fields on the midfield of attention.

I taught Gary the Double Doodle, one of the 26 basic activities of the Brain Gym® program. This activity calls for drawing with both hands at the same time while soft-focusing with the eyes. Gary was delighted to discover that he was able to draw in this way extremely well. The Double Doodle emphasizes combined use of the two hemispheres through the visual system. We then did the Cross Crawl, the Elephant, and the Footflex—three activities that, like the Double Doodle, create focal awareness within a whole-body context.

After doing these activities, Gary was able to hold his focus without losing his ability to “read” the big picture. An in-depth post-check found Gary easily crossing the visual midfield. As he drove his imaginary car, he was relaxed and alert, looking around effortlessly, clearly holding an ambient awareness as he proceeded carefully and mindfully into traffic. He noticed his improvement, and agreed to do the recommended Brain Gym movements with Geri every day.

Yes, Gary called to let me know that on his third driving test, he finally did well, and his new driver’s license has now been issued to him.


The distinctions of what and where, along with their implications for underfocus and overfocus, are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life © 2007.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in your area.

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