20 Weeks: More than a glimmer of hope!

Standing in the Sky Pod of the CN Tower, nearly 1500 feet up from street level I was experiencing heart palpitations and vertigo while my children were completely unfazed by the height at which we stood over looking the city of Toronto. Standing on one of the seven modern wonders of the world, I was in awe of the view, but more so by my little girl who I am certain a few months ago wouldn’t have dared step off the glass elevator of the top floor (over 1400 feet up) let alone want to climb further and step outside where we currently stood. She and her brother were giggling and laughing, pointing out various buildings they recognized from our home city.

CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Our little girl has come a long way, in a short period of time. Spring Break is coming to a close here and my family and I spent some time visiting various attractions that are less than a 30-minute drive away from us, and yet we still hadn’t taken the time to enjoy. At the CN Tower and the Royal Ontario Museum our daughter and her little brother ran from exhibit to exhibit pointing out their finds, and reading the little placards outlining facts about the artifacts on display. Once upon a time – not too long ago – our daughter wouldn’t have ventured out on her own and voluntarily read aloud, especially with crowds of strangers nearby. My husband and I exchanged a knowing glance and a smile. Slowly, our daughter is gaining her confidence back, and that enthusiasm for learning we saw when she was a toddler is starting to reveal itself again.We recently had our 20 week assessment, and our daughter is progressing well. Improvements are obvious since her last assessment, particularly her ability to track. Previously she moved her entire body to track the small silver ball Dr. Tai moved from side-to-side and in figure 8’s. Now her head barely moves, and her eyes flow much more smoothly with the movements.

Her reading has come a very long way. For the first time since starting VT my daughter can say that she has noticed how it’s easier for her to read, that she doesn’t lose her place as often and rarely skips words. (When fatigued she will occasionally repeat a line, but she has improved substantially compared to how she was reading 5 months ago.)

There are still areas that need improvement. For example, she experiences intermittent double vision when looking in 3D, and her eyes still tire, but we’re headed in the right direction.

She’s been working extremely hard and the pay-off is evident in her improved reading, but she’s also carrying a lot of stress. School is still challenging at times, and being in second grade the various dynamics with her peers has been contributing to her stress levels. Children are quick to compare, and voice loudly (and in some cases not very kindly) what they perceive as being different. We’re working through that together, and are committed to looking for ways in which we can help our daughter navigate her way through the social hurdles that appear from time-to-time at school.

City of Toronto, view from SkyPod, CN Tower

City of Toronto, view from SkyPod, CN Tower

Life is busy, school moves so quickly and the workload in second grade is heavy, even for a child who doesn’t have the added visual challenges our daughter has. As a result, making the time for fun things is more important than ever, hence our venture to the top of the CN Tower. The extreme height left me weak-kneed and with sweaty palms, but it was worth it to see my children feel very confident in their own abilities to stroll around the lookout deck. So much so my 5-year old son begged to do the Edge Walk. (For those not familiar, the Edge Walk entails being suspended by rope from the very edge of the CN Tower with just your toes brushing the edge.) There’s no way that was happening! It was enough they were jumping on the glass floor (by the way, I wasn’t the only parent standing on the sidelines holding their breath not wanting to project their fears on their child).

The skeletons of 10-metre tall ferocious dinosaurs featured in the Giants from Gondwana exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum is more my speed!

Giganotosaurus, "Giants of Godwana" Royal Ontario Museum

Giganotosaurus, “Giants of Godwana” Royal Ontario Museum

A Vision Therapy Success Story ~ Fabian Tai, O.D.

The majority of the stories I have encountered regarding Vision Therapy involve children who are struggling in school, or adults & children with amblyopia or strabismus who lack consistent stereo-vision. Their struggles are what prompted them (or their parents) to pursue Vision Therapy.

As I read about Vision Therapy I have learned about its benefits for athletes, stroke survivors, individuals who have sustained concussion and the side-effects post-trauma. I have also learned that some developmental optometrists and vision therapists were drawn to their respective professions through personal experiences or that of someone very close to them. However, it was during a candid discussion with my daughter’s optometrist, Fabian Tai, O.D. that I realized there’s another group of people for whom vision therapy is beneficial. Those who did well in school, are successful in their professions and likely don’t even realize that there’s anything wrong within their visual system.

Turns out, Dr. Tai is one such person.

As a weekly regular at the optometry clinic opportunity has allowed for casual discussions with Dr. Tai and some of his staff. It was during one such discussion that Dr. Tai shared with me how he came to pursue developmental optometry and more importantly, how he came to discover that he [unknowingly] had issues with his vision for years and is now undergoing vision therapy to correct them.

(I assure you I am sharing his story with his blessing, and perhaps it will inspire some of our readers to share theirs.)

Generally, Dr. Tai did well in school.  He was a straight A student and yet he can recall as early as the second grade being confused in class. Rather than ask for help he’d look to the classmates seated on either side of him for clues to help him figure things out because he couldn’t understand the instructions the teacher had given. He likened the experience to that of one of the Peanuts characters in a Charlie Brown television special and the “wah-wah-wah” sound of an adult’s voice.

He recalls scoring excellent grades in school, usually achieving top marks in his classes.  However it wasn’t easy and he often spent long hours studying for tests, eventually falling asleep because his eyes hurt.  Sometimes he felt anxious and frustrated when having trouble with his studies, but he thought this was normal for a typical student.

It wasn’t until after Dr. Tai became an Optometrist and attended a vision therapy course in the United States that he realized a missing piece in his practice.  He knew there was an association with how people performed in their eye exams and their visual process to see the world. But the specialized area of Vision Therapy was not taught at his school of Optometry in Canada. (It is more commonly taught in Optometry schools in the United States.)

He knew he had trouble crossing his eyes and had attempted to correct it with classical therapy of pencil push-ups and computer programs.  But it didn’t help, and eventually he gave up, not realizing the link between his ability to cross his eyes and reading performance.  After he began his training in Vision Therapy, Dr. Tai realized how hard his body worked to read. There were treatment exercises he just couldn’t do and others made him physically exhausted.  Hence his pursuit of a Vision Therapy program for himself, one he is still undergoing.  (By the way, he has finally solved his problem of being unable to cross his eyes, through treating the whole visual process rather than just focussing on the single issue as the classical treatment methods do.)

In addition, Dr. Tai has always wondered about children’s natural curiosity for the world around them and why some of those naturally curious children lose their enthusiasm for learning when they get older. His understanding of the development process of the visual system enables him to look for more specific signs that would contribute to this [seemingly] sudden loss of motivation to learn and the visual- specific signs that may deter a child from wanting to learn to read or write.

But Dr. Tai tells me this wasn’t the only revelation that motivated him to offer vision therapy in his practice. Fatherhood was the other.

Like most of us who have children, Fabian Tai experienced that 180 degree shift that comes when you find yourself responsible for the well-being and development of someone whom you love more than life itself; his daughter.   While too young to determine whether she’ll need vision therapy, she still plays a role in Dr. Tai’s quest to help his young patients reach their full potential. As a mother of two young children, I can’t think of a better motivation.

Dr. Tai understands what his Vision Therapy patients are going through, because he has walked a similar path himself. His first-hand experience leads him in his practice to help both children and adults who may be struggling with specific skills such as reading and writing, as well as those who are working hard, investing considerable energy in common day-to-day tasks, and are still not able to reach their full potential.

Fabian Tai has compassion for his patients and wants to see each of them succeed. This has been evident to me through my daughter’s experience with vision therapy.  We feel very fortunate to have found Dr. Tai and his team.

 

 

If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area and are looking for a Behavioral/Developmental Optometrist consider Fabian Tai, O.D. www.drfabiantai.com in Mississauga. Are you outside of the Greater Toronto Area? Please refer to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development and click “Find a Doctor” located in the top right corner of their page.  Or visit the Optometric Extension Foundation’s webpage and click on “Find an Optometrist.”

Gallopintovision.com ~ Steve Gallop, O.D., FCOVD

As I have mentioned in earlier entries, since discovering our daughter’s visual issues (Convergence Insufficiency, issues with eye movement, accommodation, eye-teaming and tracking) I have done a lot of reading to educate myself on the latest research about behavioral optometry and vision therapy. There are several books, web sites and blogs I refer to regularly (many I have mentioned here on our blog; more that I’ll review in the future); one such web site and blog is gallopintovision.com by Steve Gallop O.D., FCOVD.

Dr. Gallop is a Behavioral Optometrist in Pennsylvania who works with people who have visual challenges related to learning difficulties, autism spectrum behaviours (including ADD and ADHD), Cerebral Palsy or Acquired Brain-Injury, athletes and more. He is also the author of several published articles, and books including, “Looking Differently at Nearsightedness and Myopia – The Visual Process and the Myth of 20/20” and more recently the co-author of The Kingdom of Should.

As a parent with little knowledge of optometry I find Dr. Gallop’s web site and accompanying blog very helpful because it is concise, well-written and easy to understand. When I wasn’t sure how to articulate my daughter’s situation in a way her teachers would understand, I referred to Dr. Gallop’s article The Visual Process and Learning.  The content was clear, easy to process and helped me convey my daughter’s situation without having to decipher doctor-speak. His article What is Vision Therapy/ Vision Training?  is very informative, and I encourage anyone who is considering (or undergoing) vision therapy/vision training to take the time to read it.   Actually, I encourage you to bookmark gallopintovision.com. It’s a resource you’ll find yourself referring to often.

Stay tuned for future blog entries about other resources I have found helpful and reviews on books I have read recently. (I have been a very busy reader of late!) I will also be dedicating a future entry to The Kingdom of Should – if you haven’t already please visit The Kingdom of Should’s interactive web site. Any description I give you couldn’t possibly do it justice. It’s an experience you (and your child or patient) should really enjoy for yourselves.

 

Do you have a story to share?

One of the best ways to increase awareness about important issues – such as the benefits of Vision Therapy – is through word of mouth. That is why I’m extending an invitation to our readers to share their stories about Vision Therapy. Whether you’re currently undergoing treatment, thinking about undergoing Vision Therapy, administer treatment, have graduated from a Vision Therapy program, or feel you have a helpful story that relates to Vision Therapy; we’d like to hear from you.

Send your story to theviewfromhere.me@gmail.com, and we will post it here on our blog to share with readers.

Prefer to remain anonymous? That’s okay. Mention your preference in your email.

We look forward to hearing from you!

“Never Give Up! … Beanie’s Story” by Beanie Leffler

I recently learned about Beanie Leffler and her remarkable story. Beanie struggled with reading for most of her life. Despite pursuing many opportunities to try and help her with her reading she continued to struggle. Eventually Beanie began working with a tutor who sent her to a reading specialist. The reading specialist asked Beanie if she’d ever had a Vision Perception Test. Beanie had not. Turns out she had issues with her vision that she was previously unaware of, and learned that help was available.

Beanie discovered Vision Therapy at the age of 55 years! Together with Vision Therapy and working with her tutor, Beanie’s reading has improved.

Her journey and struggles, inspired her to write “Never Give Up! … Beanie’s Story”, with illustrations by Kathy Kuczek.

“Never Give Up! … Beanie’s Story” is a 32-page, hardcover children’s book with colorful illustrations and a remarkable story of the importance of perseverance. Through her story, Beanie hopes to prevent other children from going through what she did; struggling with reading and not knowing that the right help was available.

Take a moment to visit Beanie’s website, Beanie Leffler. Read her personal story, peruse the testimonials and consider purchasing a copy of her book to add to your children’s library or your office for the benefit of your young patients. (I ordered two copies. One for our home library and one to donate to my children’s school library.)

Never give up! (Beanie didn’t.)

"Never Give Up! ... Beanie's Story"

“Never Give Up! … Beanie’s Story”

A great blog entry from VT Works. The following excerpt: “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.” is a great reminder for parents, vision therapists … really anyone regardless of whether they’re undergoing/administering Vision Therapy. Pop over and have a read of the VT Works blog … lots of insightful information from the perspective of a Vision Therapist.

VT Works

Balancing the human ego can be a tricky task sometimes. Too much ego from one person can be troubling, while too little ego can be – well, troubling. Nothing is more annoying than watching the interview of a sporting superstar whose underlying message is “let me tell you how wonderful I am”.  I always want to jump through my television and remind them that they get paid to play a game, not save the world. On the other hand, the person filled with personal doubt and a self effacing attitude can stimulate those same emotions, but from the other direction. Seems equilibrium may be tough for the ego too.

During a long car ride yesterday, I was thinking about how ego is involved in the VT Room.  More specifically, the importance of a patient’s perception of their own intelligence and self worth.  It’s rare that I have run into a…

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Life has a way of interfering sometimes …

Compliance and commitment are important to the outcome of Vision Therapy. The majority of the reading I have done during my research supports the theory that a combination of in-office and at-home activities & exercises will ensure the best possible results from treatment. This takes commitment – from the whole family – and yet sometimes no matter how committed you may be, and no matter how dedicated you are, circumstances beyond your control will arise.

That’s what happened to us this past week. Nothing major in the grand scheme of life, but our daughter came down with a bad head cold that really took a lot out of her. As a result, we missed last week’s Vision Therapy appointment and our homework has been delayed as well. In the past when she’s been sick with a cold, it’s been fairly minor so we’ve forged ahead despite her not feeling 100%. (There’s a difference between a case of the sniffles, but otherwise feeling like oneself versus fever, sinus headache and lethargy – especially when it comes to young children.) This time however, I knew that pushing her to continue would have the opposite effect. Helen, our vision therapist, agreed. She said, to force therapy while ill just adds more stress to the body and it’s better to take time to heal rather than try to muddle through.

So rest we did. A few days later our daughter was feeling better and we’ve managed to fit in three days of vision therapy homework. Not ideal, but better than none at all. It’s a new week. Our daughter is feeling much better, and we’ll attend our next appointment as planned and continue to move forward.

The week hasn’t been without its successes either. Yesterday our daughter was playing an I Spy game with her younger brother. You know the type – a page of different objects all mish-mashed together and the reader has to find the match amongst the various details on the page. In the past, our daughter would have avoided the activity completely or become very frustrated by it. This time, she was remarkably calm, spotted a number of items that even I couldn’t find, and did so quickly.

Little steps in the right direction …

Staircase on Mount Davidson

Staircase on Mount Davidson, by Lori D’Ambrosio

Keeping the Faith – Home Therapy Updates

Between school activities, homework, extra review and vision therapy, not to mention family obligations and other day-to-day responsibilities, life continues to be busy at our house.   We’re not special, life is busy for everyone. Scheduling and planning seems to be the best approach, and these days we’re making time for some new vision therapy homework activities.

Last week we continued with the Double Circle Jumps (see “Circle, Circle, Jump!” for a description), but added the use of a metronome set at 20. (I gradually raised it to 30 with each session.) My daughter did well, but continues to find it challenging as it involves having to track her place on a chart, determine which side of the line she needs to jump to, and whether she’s calling out right or left.  She forges ahead though, and is getting much better at it.

We continued with See 3 Coins and she is increasing the length of time for which she is able to hold her focus. Even with slow movement of the card in small circles she is able to maintain her focus for almost two minutes (this is progress, believe me). We perform this task three times, with small breaks in between, and while her eyes get tired and she sometimes has a mild headache afterwards, my daughter admits to being able to see a slight difference each time she does this exercise. I take this as a good sign.

BAR (Binocular Accommodative Rock) was introduced and I will be honest and say that my daughter found this activity extremely frustrating.  To quote The Optometric Extension Program Foundation’s (OEP) description, the purpose of BAR “is to give you constant feedback as to whether both eyes are “turned on” while you are reading and to increase the speed of your accommodative response (focusing mechanism) under binocular conditions.”  This activity told us whether or not my daughter’s eyes were working together. As we discovered (not surprisingly) my daughter’s eyes don’t consistently work together.

It wasn’t the level of difficulty per se, but rather all of the steps involved that seemed to be the cause of frustration. My daughter had to wear her reading glasses, then place a pair of glasses with polarized lenses over top, then hold the plus/minus flipper lenses in front of her eyes. We also had to hold polarized strips on top of her reading material. We chose a book she was comfortable with, and while on her slant board, she’d have to read along, keeping everything in place (I helped). Well, at first her glasses pinched her ears, the polarized lenses kept slipping off and then Dr. Tai’s office called to say he’d modified the plan by asking that we encourage her to read faster (to say that went over like a lead balloon would be an understatement) and  at one point (uncharacteristically for her) she tossed it all aside and refused to do it. She was right, it was all pretty exasperating.

BAR

Polarized glasses

What did we do?   We switched places. She pretended to be me, and I pretended to be her.

On went my glasses, then the polarized lenses followed by the flipper lenses, and the polarized bar strips on the page. My daughter reminded me – as she had been told – that if words became blurry I was to tap the page, and if I had double vision, I was to bring my index finger in front of my nose, focus on it, and bring it down to the page until the double vision went away. She was an excellent Vision Therapist, and I tried to be as good a patient as she is, even though this exercise gave me a headache. But role-reversal worked. And my daughter had enough of a break and regained some confidence to tackle BAR once more!

She did have occasion where the words became blurry, and other time she had incidents of double vision, but she remembered the little tricks that Helen shared with her, and continued on. Next to Near/Far, this was one of the few activities that seemed to exhaust her.

This week brings another new exercise (and a break from BAR much to my daughter’s relief) with a new activity called Flashlight Pointing. A two-step process, this activity involves my daughter holding a laser light in each hand, and reading random letters from a chart. While doing this, she has to point the laser light – to the beat of the Metronome – to an image on the wall, while calling out the letter. Even though she says this is hard, she does very well with it. We’ll be working at spreading out the series of images, so she’ll need to further her peripheral range of vision.  We’re also continuing with Circle Jumps and See 3 Coins.

Despite how challenging some of the exercises are my daughter continues to be hopeful that some-day Vision Therapy will make things easier for her. She has learned quickly the importance of keeping the faith.

It’s all fun and games – Part II

While researching vision therapy and the visual/learning connection I came across an article entitled, “Toys for Strong Vision.” by Dr. Charles Boulet, a developmental optometrist with a background in education and neuropsychology. His clinic, Diamond Valley Vision Care is located in Alberta, Canada.

As a parent, the concept of developmental toys is not new to me. Although in my opinion once a child passes the age of 6 years we hear less about developmental toys and more about the latest electronic games and gadgets, even though skill development at that age level (and beyond) is still occurring and very important.

Dr. Boulet’s article includes eighty-one toy and activity suggestions for a variety of ages. He has categorized them into the various skill sets that support reading and academic development including building toys, fine motor skill toys, space perception toys, visual thinking toys & games and balance and coordination toys & games.

Perplexus by PlaSmart

Perplexus by PlaSmart

With the concepts and suggestions Dr. Boulet covers in his article I have made a more conscious effort to choose games and activities for my children that target the development of their visual skills. One of the most popular in our house these days is Perplexus by PlaSmart. The object of Perplexus is to balance a small silver ball on the narrow tracks of a maze within a sphere.  Carefully tilting the sphere, while following the little ball with your eyes, you move the ball along the tracks, over and under obstacles all while trying not to let it fall over. At first, my daughter found it a little frustrating because the little ball wouldn’t stay on the track, but she kept at it and quickly figured it out. I can see her concentrating with her eyes focused on the ball as it follows those little tracks; determined not to let that ball fall off. This game has become so popular in our house, that I think I may have to get another one … for my husband! He seems even more determined than our daughter to get that little ball through the maze!

Other games we have tried from Dr. Boulet’s list include Jenga, Kerplunk, Lite-Brite and Operation. (They have a Star Wars version now, for anyone like me, who has fans of Star Wars at home.)

Other popular games with my children (not mentioned in Dr. Boulet’s article) include Shrimp Cocktail by Blue Orange Games.  The object of the game is to find as many matching cards as possible, to “squeeze the star fish” (which makes a squeaking sound) before your opponents. Along the same lines, and a little more challenging, is Spot it! also by Blue Orange Games. There are 5 ways to play Spot-it, all with the same objective, to be the first player to spot the matching pictures between two cards.

DSC04482DSC04484

With the recent snow storm we had, yesterday was a snow day. My children made great use of the best (and most frugal) play space around — outside! Tobogganing, tunnelling through a pile of snow to make a fort, tossing snow balls, all of these activities contributed to the healthy development of several skills and neither of them even realized it. They were too busy having fun!

Regardless of what games you’re playing or where you’re playing them, the objective is to have fun, spend time with your family and enjoy the additional benefits of helping our children develop important skills.

Cheers to great teachers!

This week was parent/teacher interviews at my daughter’s school. Admittedly, I normally don’t look forward to this time of the school year. Don’t get me wrong, I like my daughter’s teachers, and we’re very fortunate as our children attend a wonderful school. As a parent, it’s difficult to hear that your child is struggling, and in my daughter’s case, despite all of her hard work, it’s still early days in her treatment and we are not yet seeing the … how should I put this … that “WOW, this is amazing” result we’re expecting at the end of her Vision Therapy program.  The improvements thus far have been very subtle. We have a long way to go; we’re not even at the half-way mark yet!

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Late last month I sent packages to my daughter’s teachers. Each package contained a copy of Dr. Stephen Gallop’s article The Visual Process and Learning,  a copy of the Teacher/Parent Vision and Learning Guide by The Vision Therapy Center, Inc. Also included was a note from me inviting them to watch the video “Looking Inward: The Vision Therapy Treatment of Convergence Insufficiency” by Dr. Dan Fortenbacher and his team at Wow Vision Therapy.  I have been talking with them about my daughter’s situation for quite some time, but I didn’t feel as confident about my abilities to articulate just what Convergence Insufficiency is, how it impacts learning, and exactly what my daughter does for the one hour and twenty minutes she misses class for her weekly Vision Therapy appointment.

I was reluctant at first. Would they think I was trying to tell them how to do their job? Would they be able to make the time to read the materials given how very busy they are? It’s my job to advocate for my child – as I have been doing – but at the same time I am aware that she’s not their only student, nor is she the only one who needs learning support. But that nagging feeling of “this is the right thing to do” and “there are other children out there who have CI and don’t yet know it” won out, so I took a chance and sent the information.

Am I ever glad that I did!

This week’s discussions have reassured me that my daughter is getting the best support possible at school. The teacher who helps with her reading was so impressed with the information, that she did more research of her own, and asked if I’d be comfortable with her sharing it with her colleagues as she feels it’s important that educators be aware in case they encounter other students with symptoms similar to my daughter. She mentioned that it helped her further understand what my daughter is dealing with, and the accommodations necessary to help her reach her goals.

Her science teacher read all of the materials, and watched the video footage and was so sympathetic to how my daughter must be feeling, and how difficult learning is for her right now. He even took the time to put together a list of suggested ways he felt he could support her in class, including making hand-outs and test papers in a larger font, having her use a highlighter to highlight pertinent details from reading assignments as well as other supports that we’re going to try.

Her primary teacher has already made some modifications in class, and now has other ideas of ways that she can support my daughter, including moving her to the very front of the class for periods of instruction, and offering her visual breaks.

Some of you are probably thinking that this is their job, and perhaps it is, but I can’t even begin to express my gratitude and relief to encounter active listeners, with open minds and such a strong willingness to help my daughter to succeed.

This is my personal shout-out to my daughter’s teachers:

“Cheers to great teachers!”

Their hard work and support really does make a difference.