So many vision therapy success stories begin with months or years of struggle, not just for the patient whose vision problems had gone undiagnosed, but also for the patient’s family. Children who struggle with vision problems may suffer from headaches, nausea, and aching eyes without being able to understand that the way they see things isn’t normal. To them, this is the only way they have ever seen the world, and their physical symptoms are as much a mystery to them as they are to everyone else. This was just the case for Braden, whose difficulties started at just four years old and sent his parents on a tireless and emotional search for help.
Braden’s mother first recalls him complaining of headaches as he began preschool, but admits they could have started sooner without him being able to say so. Difficulties were intermittent at first, sometimes absent for a month or so, but suddenly once a week he would complain of a headache, vomit, then return to normal. A trip to the doctor pointed to migraines as the culprit, earning Braden a prescription for a three-times-daily medication. In his mother’s words, she was not the type “to grow a bunch of random herbs in my backyard and start feeding them to [her] son,” but still had reservations about her child taking such a long-term prescription medication without trying anything else, especially when neither she nor her husband suffered migraines. Their next attempt at a solution was what they described as “micromanaging” their son’s life.
For years, all the way through 3rd grade, Braden’s parents painstakingly recorded every single detail of his life in the desperate attempt to find any pattern or underlying cause behind his episodes of headaches and vomiting. They tracked what he ate and drank, how much sleep and physical activity he got, even how much time he spent watching TV, reading, and doing homework. Despite all this, Braden’s misery continued, and just a few months into 3rd grade he had already missed six days of school, his reading fluency was very low for his age, and he struggled with writing. Outside of the classroom, his debilitating headaches made him miss playdates and family gatherings as well, all adding up to low self-esteem and a quality of life that left much to be desired. When he was eight years old, Braden’s family again sought medical attention with a new doctor.
This new doctor took a fresh look at Braden’s medical history, as well as the four years’ worth of data his parents had tracked about his life. To their surprise, the doctor’s next question was to ask them if they’d ever heard of vision therapy. They were sure they hadn’t, but jumped at the opportunity to try something new–and drug free–that might finally end their son’s struggle.
When they finally met their nearby developmental optometrist and member of COVD, Braden’s family was at their wits’ end. “We were mentally, emotionally, and
physically exhausted. We had lived a very high stress life watching and logging Braden’s every move, hoping he would give us insight to the triggers of his headaches. Our extended family had deemed us unsociable, and Braden was the ‘kid who was always sick’. We were up to two hours of homework a night, we did not read for fun, and a mass of sick days were used.” But after their very first phone call with the office’s staff, it became clear to the family that this was the right path. After years of fighting the battle alone, finally someone was asking questions, acknowledging their hard work and dedication, and working to get Braden’s school in the loop about his struggle and progress. “It was like a
much needed, long awaited, warm hug. We were no longer alone. We had this little
troop of soldiers that were bound and determined to give our son a better quality of life.
We went into those first appointments not knowing anything and not truly understanding
the process this path would take. What we found….was our salvation.”
Unfortunately, Braden’s vision therapy did not start out easy. The family’s stress and emotions continued to run high as his enthusiasm for the at-home practice sessions was less than ideal, and his father struggled to understand that practice didn’t need to mean perfection. A particularly-stressful week culminated in an in-office vision therapy session that began with Braden arguing about what he would and wouldn’t do that day, and for the first and only time, his mother questioned their choice to try vision therapy. “Braden was still having headaches, his behavior in the work room was not conducive to what his father and I expected of him, practicing at home just led to meltdowns, and I was exhausted from just trying to keep up with everything,” she recalls. As she was sitting in the waiting room and worrying over her family’s decisions, Braden’s vision therapist heard her sigh three times and felt compelled to come out and see what was going on.
This was when the healing really started for Braden and his family. His mother opened up about her feelings regarding her son’s progress and his vision therapist did as well, and they agreed that the team needed to get together and develop a new plan for moving ahead with treatment. Used to years of tight control on her son’s every move, trying desperately to come to a solution to improve his life, Braden’s mother realized then that she needed to let go and allow others to take charge of the work that needed to be done.
The optometrist and vision therapists stepped up to the challenge far beyond expectations, showing Braden’s family that everyone’s journey through VT is different and their family was no exception. “We couldn’t just drop Braden off and pick him up
after an hour session was over. Our success was in the whole picture. Braden needed
to know that he was worth waiting on and that the process was important to us. How
was I supposed to know Braden wouldn’t be the only one receiving therapy? Who knew
that letting go of all the questions left unanswered would be so therapeutic?”
Big changes started happening with Braden then. Every single session was tailored around his needs that day, without fail–what was he struggling with, how he was feeling, how things could be made to work best FOR him. Everything began to turn around, both in school and at home: Braden’s reading fluency rose drastically, he moved on to 4th grade, and started to read at home without being asked.
At the same time, the underlying issues that were causing his headaches on top of the vision problems were steadily being worked out. Once suffering from up to three debilitating headaches a week, Braden is down to one every few months at worst. His social and family life have blossomed, too, due to not only his own progress but the whole family’s healing. “Vision therapy taught my husband and me to look at our son from a different perspective, and we are better parents because of it,” his mother asserts. “Braden is a better student and a better version of himself because of it. I can’t express the sheer joy of knowing that my child enjoys to read and has the confidence to do so.”