We’ve been busy practicing vision therapy at home amongst other things and I’m very excited to share with you that Nolan is making great progress in vision therapy. Not only are we starting to see changes in how he is progressing through the various exercises, but we are seeing a positive impact in his everyday life.
“Good thing I’m doing vision therapy Daddy, or I would’ve probably knocked that over.”
I mentioned previously that one of the reasons we started vision therapy was because we felt that Nolan was somewhat clumsy, often knocking into things. Nolan’s job after dinner is usually to clear the plates from the table… something that used to make me cringe as I waited for him to drop or knock something over. Well, just the other night, he successfully lifted his plate up and over his sister’s ill-placed glass, and then proudly stated, “Good thing I’m doing vision therapy Daddy, or I would’ve probably knocked that over.” Yes! I was so excited not only to see this change but to know that he was seeing it as well.
In addition, Nolan surprised me at a recent vision therapy session. There’s a game that we have called Squap. It’s basically a catch and throw type game that uses paddles and a ping pong ball. It’s actually fairly challenging. I was surprised not only that Nolan chose to try it with Ariana, but that he actually was able to catch the ball consistently. Catching is one of the things that Nolan really wanted to improve on, and it’s exciting to see him making progress at things that are important to him.
Progress is important to see. And it’s especially important to us as both parents and optometrists that we help our children not only excel at activities in vision therapy, but that we help them to translate those things into everyday life. Seeing these improvements helps us and our patients gain the motivation to continue working hard to get the best results possible!
Video courtesy of Carole L. Hong, OD, FCOVD: In this video, San Francisco Giants first baseman, Brandon Belt, discusses how vision therapy helped him recover from concussions even though he had “perfect vision.” Even now, he continues to go to vision therapy and he thinks vision therapy is “the next level of the game.”
Voice of Carole L. Hong, OD, FCOVD: Brandon, I know you’ve been quoted as saying like “If I can see it, I can hit it,” and I know that vision therapy was a part of your journey. Can you tell us a little bit about that and any vision symptoms that you had prior…
Brandon Belt: Yes, so, I basically have perfect vision. I mean, I can see really well. Like, I don’t know. Like, superhuman vision. <laughter> So, I mean. And, I say that for a reason too. Because, and I think a lot of athletes are like that. So, when the smallest thing is off, we notice it.
And, you know, it’s not, I mean this is a couple of different ways that it affects you. I mean sometimes it’s double vision. Sometimes something’s blurry. Sometimes everything just slowed down and your eyes aren’t moving as quickly as you want them to. So, I think that’s what I meant by saying what I said.
But, that also brings the most stress too, because in baseball, your eyes are everything. You’ve got to have them working perfectly, and when it doesn’t come back quickly, man, that brings on a lot of anxiety, and that’s one of the biggest problems I have, and after the last two concussions I went to vision therapy and I did that for a couple months.
I did it [vision therapy] during the off season because that’s just when my concussions fell – I was able to do it in the off season. So I did in the 4 months of the off season, and I came back and had both years, pretty much, had all star seasons.
So, one was in 2016 and one was before last season, and I was having one of my best years to date last year before I had the surgery. So, the thing I learned from that was vision therapy is pretty important whether you have a concussion or not.
So, I didn’t have a concussion this year, but I’ve been going back. And, I think that’s probably, I might be getting off on a tangent here, but that is probably the next phase of the game. That, to me, people are really going to acknowledge and say, “Hey, we gotta get better at this if we want to be better baseball players, if we want to be better athletes.”
So, I’ve been going back and doing that, and it’s just so important to our craft and to our sport. That it means everything, and that why I said that and why it’s so important to me at the time.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I see kids on a regular basis who have binocular vision or eye tracking efficiency deficits. Usually, the process of explaining this is fairly straightforward. We sometimes show parents examples of activities that their children are struggling with, we go through certain test results with them and compare them against normal values, etc. But when my six-year-old son, Nolan, asked me the other night why he had to do his vision therapy homework I felt somewhat ill-prepared….
“I had to make it important to him, getting him to buy in to doing months of practice at home with me.”
Dr. Nick Doyle, Optometrist
At that moment, I realized that I’d never really had to fully explain this to someone as young as he was. Sure, we explain things like this to patients all the time, but usually we talk more directly to some of our older kids and teenaged patients. Nolan proceeded to tell me that he could “see everything clearly” and that his “eyes were fine” …all while he was protesting starting his vision therapy home practice of course.
And he wasn’t wrong. He CAN see things clearly. He doesn’t need glasses, and in fact, glasses won’t help with what we’re trying to accomplish anyway. Unfortunately, he’s too smart for me to give him the tired old generic parent response of “because I said so.” I knew that I needed to craft my response in a manner that would help him to see the benefit. I had to make it important to him, getting him to buy in to doing months of practice at home with me. I thought about some of the things that he’d mentioned in the past… how he didn’t want to play baseball because he thought he wasn’t good at catching, how he loves riding his bike, and how the thing he was most excited about when he started school was learning to read.
I began to tell him how practicing vision therapy would help him to learn to catch and throw the baseball better, how he’d be able to ride his bike more confidently on the path and know where to turn (he sometimes has trouble with staying on the right side too), and how it would help him to become an even better reader. I explained to him that his eyes not only have to see things clearly, but they have to move like a team, just like all of the other parts of his body. Thankfully, Ariana reinforced this at his vision therapy session by telling him that his eyes have to tell his brain to tell his body where to move.
And so seemingly, for now at least, I had his attention. Since that conversation, I’ve had good cooperation getting his home practice started, even after a long day of school. We always tell patients that we don’t want vision therapy to become a burden to them, especially during the school year, and believe me, I know how hard it is to try and grab the attention of a child after a full day of school when his brain is just done paying attention for the day. As parents (and optometrists) we have to come up with better ways to get our children and patients to see value in what we’re providing, whether that means talking about things they’d like to improve on, inventing incentive systems, etc. In the age of instant gratification, this can be less than easy. But the lessons learned by continuing to work toward a goal can be invaluable… both for a visual system, and a developing young mind.
It was a snowy and cold Saturday morning when Nolan and I headed to the office for his first session of vision therapy. I knew what to expect as we walked into the office, but my inquisitive six-year-old was curious about what lay ahead of him for the next forty-five minutes. I began to tell him a little bit about what he would learn in vision therapy and that a lot of the things he would do would be fun like games. This seemed to pique his interest even more.
Nolan was excited to meet his vision therapist, Ariana, and you could tell immediately that they were going to work well together. Ariana was quick to remind me that usually they like to have parents in for the last ten to fifteen minutes of the session so that they can go over home practice activities. So, I did the thing I’m most uncomfortable doing… I waited. (My whole staff will tell you that I’m likely the most impatient person they’ve ever met.)
When it was time for me to come back to see how Nolan had been doing, he had a big smile on his face. He was proud to show me all of the activities that he had worked on, especially the ones that we’d be working on at home.
Ariana explained that we’d be working a lot on eye tracking activities for the first week since this really is a foundation of how our eyes work together. She did a fantastic job of explaining what activities we would be working on for the week, giving us a sheet with all of them clearly listed. I’d seen this before obviously, but I have to tell you that from a parent’s perspective, I really like how it has a spot to indicate how hard (or easy) a particular activity is each time you practice it. This really helps our vision therapists know when it’s time to provide additional help or when they need to bump up the difficulty on certain things.
And that’s that. We were off with our bag of home practice supplies and armed with a binder full of activities for the week. I was both excited and nervous. I’m anxious to get started with helping Nolan out, and also nervous about how I’m actually going to keep him engaged at home. More on that and on how our home practice is progressing soon!
Writing this blog post is a humbling moment in my career. As I write, I feel like a terrible father and optometrist but I will keep writing in the hopes my family’s journey will help others.
All day I see patients and discuss, in great detail, the visual or physical symptoms they experience that affect their enjoyment of life as well as their continued health. I, and the other doctors here at Highline, are especially passionate about targeting potential visual skills deficiencies that can keep kids and adults from learning efficiently. For some people, these binocular vision issues can cause some pretty debilitating physical symptoms like eyestrain, headaches, and double vision. For others, the cues are often subtler and are easily missed or written off as other things like “boyishness”.
We are passionate about helping people properly develop these visual skills because not doing so limits their potential. When learning is especially difficult or hurts, kids don’t want to succeed in school, they just want to survive and graduate high school. And they definitely don’t want to go to college to pursue an interest that might otherwise feed their soul. When near work hurts or is difficult for adults, they adapt to their existing capabilities and change their career goals to match what they can do comfortably. In short, when learning is difficult or painful, the future becomes more limited than it should be and that’s just not okay.
WHAT I MISSED: THE SIGNS
Which brings me back to why I feel like a terrible father: I overlooked some signs that my son had a visual skills deficiency and needed Vision Therapy.
Now, to be fair to myself and my wife, our son, Nolan, is six years old and this is about the age we, as optometrists, are able to spot visual deficiencies in our young patients. It’s when kids begin learning in a school environment that visual issues often present themselves. In our case, Nolan was learning in the classroom just fine and his reading skills are progressing at above his age level. In addition, some of his processing skills seem very advanced (Can I tell you that he’s building Lego sets intended for 16 year olds?). But, here’s what we started noticing:
- He was a bit clumsy: it’s as if he had trouble recognizing how his body moved in relation to his surroundings.
- He was fidgety when doing homework: he squirmed in his seat and picked at his clothing and otherwise, would not sit still.
- He has always avoided team sports: fearing that he “won’t be any good.”
After some discussions with my wife, we decided to just pull the trigger and put Nolan in Vision Therapy right now. The worst thing that could happen would be that – as his eyes and brain are trained to work together at a higher level – he might need more advanced Lego sets!
Some of the visual skills I had checked with Nolan at his exams actually didn’t look too reduced, but I knew that we often get a lot more information after scheduling a screening appointment in the Vision Therapy office. It was at this first Vision Therapy appointment that our suspicions were confirmed: Nolan’s eye tracking skills were very underdeveloped. He seemed to have trouble with some basic visually guided motor skills, and I was astonished at the effort that some of the testing took for him.
HERE WE GO!
So here we are, beginning Vision Therapy and it is my intention to bring you along with us so you can see what Vision Therapy is like from a parent’s perspective. Follow Highline Vision Center on Facebook or Instagram to see when this blog is updated.