Optometrists Change Lives

Optometrists Change Lives

The Optometric Extension Program Foundation is an international organization dedicated to the advancement of the discipline of optometry through the gathering and dissemination of information on vision and the visual process (from the OEPF website). OEP began as an educational forum for optometrists. Their website now includes a page that helps people find a behavioral optometrist near them:

Dear Jillian

Robin Benoit and her daughter Jillian wrote a wonderful book in 2010 - Jillian's Story: How Vision Therapy Changed My Daughter's Life. The book told the story of Jillian’s odyssey with amblyopia.

Jillian and Robin's follow-up book is entitled Dear Jillian: Vision Therapy Changed My Life Too (available at: At the age of fourteen Jillian's second book is a collection of stories describing people's experiences with vision therapy. Some are children with learning difficulties, some are children facing autism challenges and some are adults living with acquired brain injuries. All of these people have one thing in common - vision therapy changed their lives in incredible ways. It is likely that each of these people would have continued to face much greater difficulty in their lives had it not been for vision therapy.

There was one story (actually there are thousands and thousands of other similar stories) not included in this wonderful collection that I would like to share with you. It is the story of a man, once a little boy with significant visual problems that were never noticed until the boy began his first year in optometry school. In case you haven't already guessed, it is my story.

I Started Out as a Child

For some reason my teachers seemed to think I was a bright child. However, their statements to that effect were always accompanied by exasperated frustration with my inability to pay attention, my penchant for fooling around and what they perceived as my tendency to be lazy about schoolwork. I was aware, certainly by the time I was in the sixth grade, that I just didn't see the need to put too much effort into school. I certainly didn't want to read anything that wasn't required and made sure to read as little as possible of anything that was. I don't remember having a specific reason for this; I just didn't like reading. My grades were always good, but never great. My teachers were always chagrined at my, "not performing up to my potential." My parents were as good as they could be about the whole thing, generally pleading, never mean and always supportive. I began to think that everybody was wrong about my potential and decided I was doing the best I could. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone.

Steven Cannot See The Board

The only thing that surfaced, as far as visual issues, was nearsightedness that began in the third grade. I assume the school nurse uncovered this nefarious ailment and alerted my parents. After that, it was simply year-after-year of stronger and stronger glasses as I apparently continued to deteriorate. By the time I finished high school I was probably more nearsighted than almost everyone you have ever known. There was probably some hope that this was the reason I was not living up to my academic potential. But despite each increase in the strength and thickness of my glasses neither my affection for nor my performance in school changed one little bit.

After one year at college, which struck me as just another year of school, I decided to put a stop to the agony and dropped out. Shortly thereafter I moved out on my own, got a menial job and began playing music in some local rock bands. I was enjoying myself. And, strangely enough I just decided to read some books. I remember very clearly simultaneously reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cukoo's Nest and T. H. White's Once And Future King. Looking back, I think the main difference was that nobody was telling me what to read, when to read it and then deciding I didn't read it very well come test time. I still read very slowly, but something inside me knew that reading was a good way to know stuff. And so I just kept reading stuff.

One other thing. I was an athletic boy. I could run fast. I liked sports, but I could never play at anywhere near the level I thought I should. I couldn't really hit or catch a baseball; I had terrible accuracy shooting baskets and rarely caught a pass. The one thing I was good at was not getting tackled. I'm not sure whether that was more due to my being fleet of foot or my fear of getting hit. Nobody ever picked me to be on their team until it was down to the last few bodies that no one really wanted. This was always a source of frustration for me, but the truth is that I had very little value in most team sports.

Next time: Optometrists Change Lives, Part 2


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