Vision therapy is pretty controversial. Some people will tell you it’s the source of all behavioral woes. Others – generally those in the medical field – dismiss it as a bunch of undocumented, unscientific hogwash designed to part parents from their hard-won money.
In fact, a lot of insurance companies won’t even cover it. Worse, all of the vision therapists in our area will not accept the medical insurance required to cover it rather than the vision insurance that makes more sense.
So yes, it’s expensive. It’s time-consuming, like all therapies. It’s elitist – only those with enough money can afford it. And… it’s working.
Our eye doctor
When we first started seeing the kid’s eye doctor I noticed brochures and signs in the office explaining what vision therapy was. Over the years, I’ve casually read articles here and there decrying the explosion of vision therapy as predatory and opportunistic. Some practices even send therapists to the schools to test the kids, padding their enrollment and terrifying the parents with dire predictions of eye strain. I shrugged, filed it away, and moved on.
Over those same years, we’ve developed a relationship with our eye doctor that changed my mind. She’s great with the kids, even my high-needs, difficult, sensory averse, impulsive kids! She’s actively worked to help us save money, and even recommended that we re-use my daughter’s prescription for glasses again this year instead of ordering a new set of lenses that were so slightly different as to make no difference at all.
I trust her.
Testing, testing ….
When she was finally able to check the Engineer’s tracking and focus abilities (he had to be age 7 before they do the test) she knew about our difficulties. She knew that he struggled with reading, that we were concerned about dyslexia, and that he was so bright and advanced in everything else but reading and it made NO sense. She knew all of this.
His results were abysmal. His tracking and focus abilities were so far below his age range that it was a mass of scratch marks and lines across the page where he missed the correct answer. It was bad, really bad. She told me that she was more concerned about how difficult it seems to be when he did the test. He held the paper closer, scrunched his face, and his forehead got lines and furrows as he struggled to do what she asked of him. He looked like he was in pain.
Given the results of that test and how hard it was for him to follow one – ONE – simple line of individual letters – I listened when she suggested vision therapy. I figured why not? Obviously this was difficult for him, and he’s not going to want to read anything if it’s that difficult. Maybe this was part of our solution. I’ve given up looking for a magic bullet – a solitary explanation for his struggles and behaviors. He’s so darned complex, there has to be a lot going on, right?
Then life hit. Then I had surgery, got ill, ended up hospitalized – all of it. The daily practices were dropped like a rock. The eye patch sat in the folder until his therapy sessions. The effort to force the insurance company to pay for the therapies fell into the weeds and got lost. And in all of that, the Engineer still made it to his therapies. Sometimes we worked around my appointments, once I sat in the ER while the kids traipsed to therapy with their dad. We made therapy a priority, and it’s the one thing we managed to stick with this summer.
Did it work?
Last week the Engineer voluntarily read a phrase off of a dinner menu. His dad and I looked at each other in shock. “Did he just read that?” He’s NEVER voluntarily read anything in his whole short life! It was a fluke. Right? A fluke.
This week, I started him on the Nessy reading program. It’s designed for struggling readers and particularly kids with dyslexia. I figured we might as well give the free trial a test. He’s reading, guys. Actually reading! He’s reading sentences and filling in the blanks, he’s practicing spelling, and he’s learning and retaining sight words! It’s progress, and it’s not a fight over every single darn word!
The mid-point evaluation
The doctor repeated the same tests she did the first time to track his progress after the first round of therapy. She was smiling when she compared the results to the first massively scratched out sheet of paper – he had improved. In fact, he had improved so much that he was now at the standard score for his age range! Both his tracking and focus were so much better that she said she would normally recommend not continuing even though he wasn’t quite fluent enough yet. In our case, because he’s so advanced, she recommended another round to solidify his progress and help him become fluid and quick enough to keep up with his brain.
Maybe science hasn’t caught up yet
I believe the scientists when they say we don’t have enough proof. I also believe my eye doctor when she says the Engineer is struggling to do something so basic that most people don’t even know they do it. As a parent, I’m desperate to find a solution – anything – that can help my kid. So we tried the snake oil. Lo and behold, it’s working!
I have no explanation for why it’s working. I can apply common sense and logic to it, and I understand that every kid is different and will have different results. Still, science says this shouldn’t be working. Vision therapy says that we didn’t do enough to practice. And yet … still … we’re seeing results. Hard won, quantifiable results that have propelled the Engineer from “I can’t read” to “hey, this isn’t too hard after all!”
So if your eye doctor suggests vision therapy, don’t sniff and ignore it as a money grab. It might just be the piece of the puzzle you’ve been looking for all this time!