Here we go again. Like tube feeding, vision is an area in which children aren’t getting the care and solutions they need and deserve. Stella just started patching, because her brain was starting to favor her right (strong) eye. And it’s already become clear (fun with puns!) that without extra effort and research on my part, her outcome, even though we are patching as directed, would be far less than optimal. Thankfully, I have the time and ability and insurance coverage to make it all happen. But I keep wondering, what about the many parents of children with vision and feeding tubes and other health issues who don’t?
Luckily for us anyway, three recent and perfectly timed events have made me feel that I’m on the right track in terms of how to approach Stella’s treatment…
1.) We recently chose a new eye doctor for Stella (our third opinion became our number one choice!) who emphasizes vision therapy in treating eye issues like Stella’s (conditions like strabismus, accommodative esotropia, ambylopia, etc. etc.). She was vastly superior to the others in terms of her attentiveness to Stella as a human being, her ability to do vision therapy with the very young (our second opinion did vision therapy, but said Stella wouldn’t be eligible for years), and her support and tips on how to patch successfully. Seattle Children’s Hospital? They just handed me some adhesive patches to stick on Stella’s almost-two-year-old eyes, with almost no explanation or and certainly no acknowledgement of how big a deal it was, noting only that patching is “not that bad.” Bullshit.
2.) I’m currently reading a ray of hope in paperback form, Fixing My Gaze by neuroscientist Susan Barry. She couldn’t see in 3D until her late 40’s (she had strabismus from early on, like Stella). The ability to see in three dimensions affects life in a myriad of ways, including the abilities to read, drive and play most sports. The book is as much about neuroplasticity as it is about vision, and I have found most of it fascinating (some of it a bit dense and technical and hard to follow). It has opened my eyes (the puns are too easy to resist here, sorry) in so many ways.
3.) Yesterday, I received an email from Stella’s new eye doctor telling me (and all her patients) about a free webinar being given by Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, on Thursday. I was thrilled! The email, besides letting me in on a great opportunity to learn from a true knowledge leader in the field, confirmed that we’d found one of the rare doctors who can help Stella achieve her own personal best in terms of vision.
The meeting’s name pretty much says it all: “School Crossings: A Neurobiologist’s View of How Our System Fails Children With Vision Problems.” I was so thrilled to find out about this, and again, to get assurance that we’d found a wonderful doctor for Stella. One of the rare few who are truly informed about vision therapy, the kind that helped Barry see the world in full, volumous beauty.
I have only a basic understanding at this point, though it’s growing all the time. But most opthalmologists (including the one we saw at Seattle Children’s) and optometrists seem to heavily rely on patching (often alone) to address situations where the brain is favoring one eye, as is beginning to happen with Stella. When the vision imbalance is left untreated, blindness in the weak eye is likely. However, patching is not a real solution or adequate treatment for many, as upon completion of occlusion, the brain slowly reverts to favoring the same eye. Both eyes are strong after months or years of patching, or have equalized (sometimes the strong eye deteriorates due its suppression) but the brain has not learned to use the eyes together. Vision therapy is needed to get the formerly weak (“lazy” or ambylopic) eye to coordinate with the strong eye and create a complete, stereopic view of the world. Proper therapy often results in a long-term cure, enabling 3D vision and other vast improvements. So many children are having to settle for significant, even quality-of-life-reducing vision impairment when in fact, they could see major improvement or perhaps complete resolution of their issues.
Many doctors still believe that there is a small window in early childhood during which eye problems must be addressed, lest be rendered irreversible. Barry’s research and personal experience shatter this falsehood. For the benefit of children like Stella, Barry is shouting her discoveries from the mountaintop, and I am extremely grateful. On the other hand, as we recently embarked on the patching journey, which I was not expecting at all–I was truly blindsided (ugh, another pun?), the book has scared me and made me cry. It’s made me realize the full scope of how Stella’s vision and life experience could be impacted if she is not properly supported. Seriously, I’ve been listening to Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way It Is” and bawling, about once a day. And I’m not a Celine Dion type of person. I’m a Neko Case fanatic. But, “it’s an uphill climb and I’m feeling sorry, but I know it will come to you, yeah” kind of hits the nail on the proverbial, three-dimensional head. I’m working hard and it feels like, once again, there’s a lot on the line and if I don’t stay vigilant and question everything every doctor tells me, Stella will suffer.
Anywho, I’ve signed up for the webinar and encourage other parents of children facing visual challenges to do the same! Virtual “seating” is limited. I will blog about the talk here, in case you miss it. The details, from the original email announcement from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD):
School Crossings: A Neurobiologist’s View of How Our System Fails Children With Vision Problems
Hear Dr. Susan Barry answer questions about difficult school experiences that resulted from her vision problems; how, for example, she was mislabeled as a low aptitude student and assigned to a special problems class, and what her mother did to help her child succeed. And more….. including what you can do to help your child succeed!
TO REGISTER FOR THE MEETING: Go to www.joinawebinar.com, fill in the meeting ID number 547-423-251 and your email address, click on “CONTINUE,” then fill out the brief form that comes up next and at the bottom of that screen be sure to click on “REGISTER.”
If you have ANY difficulty registering or any problems during the webinar, contact TECH support for gotowebinar.com at 800-263-6317.
Click here to read the full press release, including more information about Susan Barry (aka “Stereo Sue”).