A Boy And His Glasses, A Doctor And His Vision
I started wearing glasses due to nearsightedness at around the age of eight. I'm not sure when the astigmatism came into the picture, but that was involved too. I was also considered a behavior problem throughout my school career. I would likely have been put on Ritalin or some similarly purposed medication the way things are today. I never liked to read, I didn’t like school, and I was overactive, disruptive and often exasperating to my teachers. My report cards always included comments to the effect of, “Steven is not working up to his potential.” Despite wanting and trying to improve, I was also poor at sports that required eye/hand coordination. I made it all the way through high school and one year of college achieving decent grades while expending as little effort as possible. I'm not proud, just being honest.
I saw no reason to begin my second year of college at the “appropriate” time. So, after a ten year sabbatical from school I decided to become an optometrist. This meant completing almost three years of college before a four year program at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. One of the primary reasons for doing this was my belief that glasses and contact lenses were a horrible nuisance in my life. This created a desire to rid myself and many others of this terrible burden. I had been given a book about seeing better without glasses when I was in my late twenties and not surprisingly found it very interesting. Soon after that I decided it would be a good idea to blend these so-called New Age ideas with the standard medical/mechanical approach to eye care I was all too familiar with. I wanted to help people with their vision in a way that I had not seen in all my experiences with eye care professionals. Along the way, I found that I had a problem getting my eyes to work together properly. It is likely that this problem had been present, and worsening for many years. With what I now know I would wager that this problem preceded my need for glasses. My experience as a doctor has proven that this is in fact a very common scenario. Then I learned about vision therapy.
I am convinced that the vast majority of children (and adults) who struggle with or avoid reading are dealing with visual deficits of which they are unaware.
I pursued vision therapy for two reasons during my years in optometry school. First, I felt it would be improper to put anyone through a vision therapy program without knowing firsthand what it was like. Second, in my twenties I began to get the sense that there was something wrong with the way my eyes were working. After simply ignoring the problem for many years, and then learning a little about behavioral optometry and vision therapy, I became curious to know if I really did have a visual problem, and if improvement was possible.
As I said, I didn’t like to read. I believe, knowing what I know now, that I didn’t like to read because I was not good at it. I also know now that I was not good at reading because of undiagnosed, untreated visual problems. I firmly believe that most children who show a dislike for reading do so because they are saddled with visual problems they do not understand or even know exists. And obviously nobody is helping them to fix the problem. Meanwhile the workload, the difficulty of the written material they are expected to manage and the expectations keep increasing.
Just as I was beginning my time in optometry school I went to a behavioral optometrist for an evaluation. I was told that my eyes were not teaming properly. This explained many things I had been experiencing over the years. Perhaps most remarkable to me was the realization that this explained why I avoided reading during all of my primary education. This eye teaming problem also clearly explained why I struggled so much with sports like baseball and basketball, which require high-level eye/hand coordination. Why, with all the eye exams I’d had over the decades, had no doctor ever done anything other than make my glasses stronger? Remember, I was going to the eye doctor at least once a year starting around age eight.
I had become convinced, after years of ever-stronger glasses, that glasses were just a bad thing. Imagine my surprise to learn that there were doctors out there who were fitting people with glasses that actually made their eyes and their visual abilities better.
One of my earliest and dearest mentors within behavioral optometry, Dr. Robert Kraskin, brought out a concept that was both foreign, and at first, very difficult for me to accept. This concept required me to understand that just about everybody should be wearing glasses. Now wait just a minute, my mission was to remove these horrible devices from the face of the Earth. Once I became familiar with all the factors at the root of this concept (which I will talk about in my next post), I was left with no other choice but to embrace this approach and all that went with it. There I was, prepared to do battle with my sworn enemy - artificial lenses - only to learn that they were, in fact, one of the greatest tools available to help people achieve greater comfort, awareness, productivity, and visual stamina.
I did not embrace this philosophy out of blind obedience. This new way of thinking grew out of extensive reading, hours of lectures and personal communication with some of the giants and innovators in the profession. This was followed by years of clinical experience with thousands of patients consistently showing me that these ideas and practices were not only sensible, but exciting in the effects they had on so many people. I also gained invaluable personal experience by being a patient - first-hand experience that cannot be gotten any other way. Over my years in practice I have built upon my experiences as a vision therapy patient by working directly with each and every person that does their own vision therapy in my office. This is another type of experience that cannot be duplicated and adds something important to a vision therapy program.
My passion and dedication to behavioral optometry has developed from the ground up. Though my visual struggles early in life were significant obstacles in many ways, I suppose they were a key factor in helping me to be where I am today. I continue to add to my knowledge base by spending time with colleagues and exchanging ideas with many of the leading practitioners in behavioral optometry. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to learn from these colleagues, to learn from each person that entrusts their care to me and to help people in a very special way, through the gifts of behavioral optometry. I have never been disappointed in the changes I see vision therapy helping people of all ages to achieve. I have not once regretted learning about vision therapy and the power of lenses to do much more than just make things look clear.
Next time: Lenses. Lenses can be used in many ways that most people are unaware of. Most doctors, as it turns out are similarly unaware of the Power of Lenses.