Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Eyes Have it: Our journey through vision therapy

When my eldest was diagnosed with dyslexia, our amazing psychologist (Dr. Spomenka Newman) gave us the wonderful advice of having his vision tested as well as his hearing. Now, we believed as many people – that the trip to the local “eye store” where they had clearly told us he (as well as his younger siblings) had 20/20 vision – so there were no problems with his eyes. We found out quickly that there is quite a bit of difference between 20/20 vision and getting a better understanding of how the eyes function together as well as with the brain.
When we did our initial testing with a developmental ophthalmologist I almost fell out of my chair. While he could in fact see 20/20, that was of little comfort when we saw everything else that affected the way his eyes worked. We found out he had severe convergence problems – meaning his eyes didn’t work together to see one picture, but each eye saw its own separate picture. He also had issues with eye teaming, meaning his eyes would compete for dominance instead of working together to show one overall picture. The best way to describe it is if the colors on your television screen fought to determine which would be brightest (this extinguishing the others) instead of working together to form an accurate picture of the world using all available colors. He wasn’t seeing in “HD” as he should have been. His eyes would fight to show just their own view of the world instead of allowing both eyes to work at the same time providing depth.
So, we started in on our vision therapy journey. About five months in to therapy, the Doctors we were using sold their practice to another team. While this was a big unsettling at first, it was actually the best thing that could have happened. They sold their practice to their mentors who were on the cutting edge of the field. They brought out eldest in for a more thorough exam and we again were amazed by what we saw. Along with the initial issues we were working on, we found he also had almost no periphery vision – he was using tunnel vision almost exclusively. This helped to explain the walking into walls and not being able to find things that were sitting almost right in front of him. He also had issues with his hearing. Seems are son heard “too well”. He could hear at such a high level it was off the scales which could be measured on their machines. While having very acute hearing might sound good, it is actually overwhelming. To hear birds chirping that are over a block away or hearing thunder clap that is miles away – you are always being bombarded with sound. It can get so overwhelming that your brain works to actually cut the sound out – which can lead to hearing problems. Another issue was that, like his eyes, his ears weren’t hearing together. At some frequencies, he would hear more in one ear than the other. This also causes distress as you can hear that stupid bird in one ear, but not the other. Kind of like someone whispering in your ear – someone that isn’t there. Not only would it be annoying, it might also start to give you a complex!
So, we are in the middle of vision therapy to help our son have a more normal sensory existence. We were doing traditional in office therapy once a week, but with his additional issues of hearing being discovered we are embarking on a more complete sensory therapy. In a few weeks he will have an intensive, in office therapy session that will focus on multiple sensory areas. The goal is to work as a bit of a defibulator if you will that will “shock” the senses into working as a team. Basically, he will lay on a table that slowly spins. It will also play soothing music at various decibel levels and he will watch a light lamp that flashes colors in a particular sequence. This will happen for 20 minutes, twice a day, for 12 straight days. He will then have 18 days of light therapy in our home. The goal if for the senses to be forced to learn to work together – getting all levels to be manageable for him to have a normal existence and not be overwhelmed by the world around him.
I will definitely give a report of our experience. We are hoping for good things. Especially since his four year old siblings had their vision and hearing tested and they also have some similar issues. They are a little too young to start therapy, but I will be trained to do some in home things with them to see if we can start to correct some of their issues while they are still young in the most gentle way. They also got prescribed some low dosage reading glasses to help the ward off the near sightedness that seems to be trying to creep in. Oh the joys of parenting twice exceptional children!

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