My official assessment is that this week’s in-office vision therapy went well. It was interesting, and eye-opening. (Once again I’ve let you down and resorted to puns.) Eye-patched Stella threw a couple blocks in frustration and engaged in impressive evasive maneuvers, but we managed to reel her back in while avoiding a fight. We totally persevered. It felt like a small victory for all of parentkind.
Helpfully, as the session got underway, the vision therapist answered all the questions I’d been asking, having gathered input from the doctor in order to do so thoroughly. And from there, she wisely kept things moving right along from exercise to exercise. In that way, Stella’s in-office vision therapy equates to a miniature three-ring circus with acts designed to mesmerize only toddlers. Imagine a large beating drum in the background and super dramatic announcer voice: “AND NOW, the great spinning disk of wonder three inches off the ground!… gasps and applause… AND NOW, the neighborhood’s tallest block tower, assembled and destroyed before your very eyes!… more gasps and applause… and now, feathers falling from the heavens… entranced silence, some “oohs,” then applause… etc. etc.!”
Here at home, Stella’s vision therapy is also a circus–one in which the elephants, lions and monkeys have escaped and are trampling the ring master and audience. It’s almost impossible to keep the show going for more than three minutes, so we do home-based vision therapy in small stints or whenever she shows interest. Sometimes, she even asks to do eye patch games! Yep. My heart almost stopped the first time she requested vision therapy. In order to better seize these moments, I pre-cut and keep handy eye patches of Magic Tape that I can quickly slap on her glasses’ right lens. Previously, I’d to stop the presses, take off her glasses, put two pieces of tape on the right lens, then carefully and annoyingly cut off the tape edges around the lens resulting in tons of tiny pieces of tape stuck to my fingers and scissors which is utterly unhelpful when you are in a major hurry in trying to take advantage of a very small window of toddler attention.
At this week’s appointment, opening acts included a matching game–simple but smart in that it forced Stella to hold an image in mind and then scan the floor for its equal. Then, there it was. The therapist brought out this large spinning disc with slim, straight back and white stripes. On this briskly rotating table, the size of a super duper extra large pizza, the vision therapist placed some small colored blocks. Stella’s job was to snag whichever color the therapist dictated. It took a moment to teach Stella to resist grabbing the disc and to only touch the blocks. “Okay, Stella! Get the red block! No, not the table, the red block! You can do it!” She got a couple, placing her hand on them and slowly dragging them off the disc before falling into what looked like a state of hypnosis. So I put her in my lap and gave her a little pep talk/verbal assistance. I did not, of course, help her get the blocks off the disc. I did say, “Ooh… here comes the blue block… here it comes…. here it comes…” to help keep her engaged and tracking. She got through about three rounds of this exercise (six or so blocks per round)–HOORAY! It was clear, and interesting, to me and the therapist that this was extremely challenging and exhausting for Stella. She almost fell asleep as the therapist stashed the disc away, a marked change from her energy level immediately preceding. We’re talking a full-on daze and string of yawns. Those moving stripes forced her to work so hard to focus, and it took a lot out of her. Even with Stella’s frustration level climbing higher due to fatigue, we plodded steadily through more “eye games.” But she did all the exercises presented. Some more easily, accurately, and agreeably than others. But she hung in there.
The imposing disc of wonder wasn’t the only overt difficulty. In particular, Stella seems quite uncomfortable tracking things that fall from just a couple feet above (with her left eye, anyway). She doesn’t even want to look up for the “balloon game” anymore, wherein I simply toss her a balloon from my standing position so that it falls right toward her hands for catching. But with a small but fun bit of dancing around with scarves and feathers, the therapist got her to follow their descent with her eyes and catch, with me holding her arms to receive them. Chalk up another victory for Stella’s left eye! And hope and sanity.
The session–the stretch following the disc exercise, anyway–reminded me of my basketball-playing days. Early on I was taught to practice free throws after games or drills, when my arms and body were nearly depleted. Because that’s how you get good, that’s how you become consistent, that’s how you hit the winning free-throw at the end of a long battle of a game. “Stella’s left eye is going to be a champion and leading scorer,” I thought! But that’s not QUITE how it’s going to work with Stella’s vision therapy at this point. The therapist noted that she’d save the more tiring exercises for the end of sessions in the future, so as to lower Stella’s frustration level throughout. This makes total sense, doesn’t it? It’s important for Stella to feel motivated or at least willing to go on. If she starts to feel more defeated than successful, her resistance would surely skyrocket. No, thanks!
This week’s vision therapy appointment granted me a couple realizations. First off, good vision therapists and good mothers have a core attribute in common: a careful balance of assertiveness. You can’t use brute force and you also can’t let the kid off the hook. You have to be firm, consistent and persistent, while mindful of the temperament of the individual child. Secondly, the fact that certain exercises are so uncomfortable for Stella made me understand how hard sports or perhaps even reading would likely be for her without the help of vision therapy. I don’t know if we’ll achieve visual perfection, but I have faith that Stella and her eyes will be very much okay.
With feathers, spinning circles, constant encouragement and gentle but insistent correction, we are preparing Stella for the visual demands that lie ahead in the circus of life. “…AND NOW, the social interaction and focus-requiring structure of preschool!… hearty applause… AND NOW, organized athletics of some kind…borderline obnoxious cheers!… AND NOW, completion of a puzzle without angry tossing of the pieces!… And the crowd goes wild!“