Today’s guest blog post was written by Carrie Hall, an optometric vision therapist at Washington Vision Therapy Center in Yakima, WA and edited by Benjamin Winters, OD, FCOVD, the clinical director of that clinic.
“I’m getting annoyed. I just feel like I didn’t get a break; everywhere I looked, things were distorted. My eyes couldn’t rest for a minute unless I closed them. Even faces, I’m trying to listen to what you were saying, but you know, I wasn’t there anymore.”
Many of us who work with children who are struggling in school might find the above sentiment familiar. Familiar not in the sense that children are able to express their concerns so clearly. But familiar in that as we look at their slightly overwhelmed, slightly vacant, slightly tired-seeming faces, we know that this is exactly what they’re feeling.
Believe it or not, the quote at the beginning of the story is not from a child with a vision problem, it is from a teacher who has just experienced what is like to have a vision problem. This teacher and 3 other teachers were subjected to simulated vision problems and then given some school work to do. The video, created by COVD member Dr. Chris Schell and Dr. Richard Maharaj captures what it is like for children that struggle with vision problems. Even more, they show that despite these vision problems, the teachers could easily pass a vision screening using the 20/20 Snellen acuity chart; thereby, demonstrating how poorly we are able to catch these problems with the vision screening done in most schools.
The truth is that many of the children that we work with simply lack the capacity to voice this frustration. They have no idea that their eyes cannot “rest for a minute,” as they have never consciously experienced what that sensation would be like. They don’t know what normal vision feels like! All they know is their parents’ frowns as they peruse report cards. They know they sure do try to sit still and concentrate each time the teacher tells them to. And they know they try so very, very hard to ignore it when their younger siblings can read the books they themselves struggle with.
It takes some contrast to truly experience how difficult it is to accomplish tasks with a visual impairment. If you weren’t born with amblyopia (a lazy eye) or convergence insufficiency, it is nearly impossible to describe how difficult school or work can become. Just the simple task of reading becomes immensely challenging and exhausting when one’s eyes are not working together as the video so brilliantly demonstrates.
The glaring truth of how very unfair it is to try to ask a child to read with a broken visual system becomes evident in this video: we see the looks on these teachers faces as they attempt to do simple tasks, such as reading and understanding children’s books. Dr. Schell elaborates, “the look on a parent’s face when they experience a moment of double vision or blurriness in one eye and how that interferes with function is priceless. The parent “gets it” for the first time.” Just like these teachers, the parents realize that their child’s slagging performance or poor behavior is utterly logical for the situation that they have been in. They experience the unfairness of it all first-hand and finally realize that they have completely misjudged their child. Often, they are overwhelmed with guilt. They feel it is their fault for not realizing what was really going on.
The simple truth of the matter is, it’s not their fault. They didn’t know.
It only takes one creative teacher searching for how to make concepts stick to realize that fixing the vision is the answer for multitudes of her students, from now till forever. It only takes one end-of-her-rope mom, worn to the bone by late-night procrastination marathons to see this video and know how to change the course of her child’s life. And it only takes one vision therapist, or optometrist, or student, or parent, to share this video with hundreds of people who desperately need to know that they are not doomed to the state they have always lived in. That there really is another way of seeing the world.
If you feel you or your child are struggling with a life-altering developmental vision problem, please contact a developmental optometrist near you by going to covd.org .