Vision Therapy in isolation

We’ve all been shut down and isolated for several weeks at least. I don’t know about you, but it’s taking a toll on everyone at my house. By now vision therapy patients have had plenty of time to miss their therapy sessions and wonder what to do on their own. I hope you’ve found some helpful tools. Some eye doctors have previously created at home programs to share with their patients, and others are rapidly scaling up to provide more options for VT at home. You’ve probably already asked your doctor for recommendations and searched online for options. Today I’m sharing a couple of my favorite free (or almost free) resources:

  1. Optics Trainer: This is a program used in VT doctor’s offices and they have a home program that doctors can implement as well. The professional version is pretty expensive and requires a prescription from your doctor for at-home use. Since I’m done with office therapy and just need periodic refreshers at home, I found they have a free app with recommendations for a home vision workout. I have enjoyed it and you may want to check it out on the App Store or on Google play.

2. I’ve shared it before but I still enjoy playing the SET game. It’s good for getting both sides of your brain functioning together. There’s a daily puzzle and SET Mania both available on the App Store. I found SET Mania on Google play as well for $1.99. There are some other SET games available for android phones as well. I don’t have an android, so I haven’t tried any of them but it looks like they operate on the same principle.

3. I included some relaxation exercises in previous posts, but now is a good time to practice relaxing your eyes, palming, getting some sun and basically taking care of yourself. Eating healthy will also contribute to your eye health. I have followed Tyler Sorensen at rebuildyourvision.com for many years and found that he consistently provides helpful, well researched information on eye health. He sells eye vitamins on his site as well.

4. There are many books available on Amazon written by VT doctors that provide games for therapy at home. I haven’t checked out all of them but I do have Eyegames: easy and fun visual exercises, an occupational therapist and Optometrist offer activities to improve vision! by Lois Hickman and Rebecca Hutchins.

In their book, Hickman and Hutchins provide foundational activities, eye movement exercises, eye-hand and eye-body activities and a large range of other games for vision development. It’s geared to children, but any adult who has done vision therapy knows that we all end up playing the same vision development games anyway. There are also some book options available on Kindle that I”m anxious to check out.

Stay safe and keep up the vision development as much as possible! I am rooting for you!

The Magic of Stereo Vision

What does seeing in 3D really mean to someone who has been stereo-blind for 54 years?

*I’m driving home from enjoying a 3D movie with my daughter, who now sees in 3D too. It’s snowing and the flakes are coming straight at the windshield. I’m a little scared actually because I’ve never seen that before and it’s somewhat disorienting. But wow! How cool is that? We discuss the fact that we are seeing something so new and beautiful. I’m glad it’s just us in the car because others may think we’re crazy to be so thrilled about snow hitting the windshield.

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*I’m laying in bed looking up at my vaulted ceiling, which seems so much higher than before and the ceiling fan is so much closer to me than I realized. Funny how I didn’t appreciate that view before.

*I second guess myself parking my car because its easier than it was before and I can pull it in the garage without having an issue, or worrying that I might hit something.

*My husband throws me the keys and I’m surprised and delighted when I actually catch them. Who knew I could do that?

*I’m driving home from another 3D movie and the trees form a tunnel as I drive down the street which feels like it continues for miles in a straight line. (It always has, but I didn’t perceive it that way before).

*I look in the mirror and my two eyes look back at me, straight, focusing together finally.

These are only a few examples of the many joyful moments I have experienced since teaching my eyes to see right.

Lately I’ve realized that even though I have indicated that vision therapy combined with surgery brought me the results I desired, I haven’t really expressed publicly what that has meant for me. It didn’t happen all at once, so I don’t consider it an event with a timeline where I can say “here is my life before stereo vision, and here is what it’s like after.” Rather, I grew into it gradually by developing abilities that at first I could only exercise in the doctor’s office with vision therapy equipment. I had a limited amount of ability when I started vision therapy: about 12 inches from my face. That was one reason my doctor was initially hopeful regarding my outcome.

When I took an extended break in 2013, I was extremely discouraged. I had worked for 21 months, from November 2011 until August 2013, which included 68 sessions of vision therapy and countless hours at home, all with no measurable results. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so stubbornly against surgery, but I wanted to exhaust all possible options first. My eyes were not noticeably crooked for much of my life, but by this time it was pretty obvious. During this time frame I was substitute teaching periodically and the children would frequently ask about my eyes. I wanted to be very up front and educate them about eye issues, but sometimes I was too emotionally spent to be up to the task.

During my break from vision therapy, I got my insurance license, became employed doing medicare insurance over the phone and enjoyed the break from worrying how my eyes were being perceived by those I served. My VT doctor got trained in Syntonics and that’s what I tried when I went back to vision therapy in May 2016. I had felt some progress prior to the break, but I think the improvement was in my brain and my eyes couldn’t cooperate yet. I had 27 more sessions of VT and then finally the surgery, followed by 24 more sessions which brings the total to about 120 sessions. I share this so you have some context for how very much I wanted to see in 3D.

At one point in the middle of all that, Dr. Davies asked me about my goal with vision therapy. Did I want my eyes to look straight, or see in 3D. I told him I wanted it all. It took a great deal of time, money and effort on my part and it’s worth it all. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my talented doctors and therapists. For me this is not an end result though. When I take a break from doing vision therapy exercises at home, I lose ground and so does my daughter. That’s why we have 3D movie dates and I have made it a habit to do a little bit every day to remind my eyes and my brain what they can do together. I also feel that the struggle has made me appreciate my new vision more than I would have otherwise. It’s not something I can afford to take for granted.

Healing from traumatic brain injury and stroke

Recently a good friend who is around my age (50s) suffered a stroke due to complications of kidney failure and the accompanying dialysis. I was very concerned about her and asked about the damage she incurred from the stroke. She explained that it was mainly her vision that had been affected and she was no longer able to read or even view TV or screens of any kind. She was suffering from extreme boredom because most of the things she enjoys doing use those basic visual functions. She is very familiar with my story and knows that I did years of vision therapy, but it didn’t occur to her that her situation might prompt such work. So I recommended that she see a vision therapy doctor as soon as possible. Luckily she was able to do so and is on the mend. It’s not the first thing doctors recommend though, so it really pays to be informed!

I recently came across an interesting article by Amy Zellmer (https://www.healio.com/optometry/primary-care-optometry/news/blogs/%7B194db35c-f748-4af2-a3ee-eea6db7fb936%7D/neuro-optometric-rehabilitation-association0international/blog-what-i-wish-my-doctors-knew) where she details the pain and debilitating symptoms she endured because of her mild traumatic brain injury and what she wished her doctors knew. They are things that really should be broadly understood. I continue to be amazed that so often people don’t realize there is help available. Effects of the mild traumatic brain injury included aphasia, short-term memory problems, difficulty processing multiple stimuli and visual-vestibular symptoms, such as dizziness, poor tracking, fixation and saccades. She shared all the details in her book Life with a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal. She finally found vision therapy and was able to heal. The five things she lists in her article are:

“–Even a mild concussion can cause significant visual-vestibular problems.

–Symptoms may be immediate or take some time to manifest and they can last months or years after the injury.

–Rest is not sufficient to resolve the symptoms.

–Vision therapy isn’t just for children — it can help adults like me, too.

–The Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association is a good resource for finding doctors and therapists who can treat mTBI sufferers.”

If you want to see the entire post, it’s available here: https://www.healio.com/optometry/primary-care-optometry/news/blogs/%7B194db35c-f748-4af2-a3ee-eea6db7fb936%7D/neuro-optometric-rehabilitation-association-international/blog-what-i-wish-my-doctors-knew

I searched the website for the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA) and was gratified to find my own doctor listed.  Here’s the link: https://noravisionrehab.org/ and the site looks like this:

NORA logoIf you have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury, it’s worth looking at getting that kind of help.

Where to start: vision therapy resources

Where to start: vision therapy resourcesVISION THERAPY is a whole new world. I have some suggestions for how to navigate this new territory and some reassurance about the potential effectiveness of your new journey.

START BY EDUCATING YOURSELF

If you are a reader (or listener), become familiar with the process by exploring books such as When your Child Struggles, the Myths of 20/20 Vision (What Every Parent Needs to Know) by Dr. David Cook, and Fixing My Gaze, by Susan Barry41ENcLDBe4L._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

In his book When your Child Struggles, Dr. Cook explains seven visual abilities that affect learning. The only one which is tested in a traditional vision screening is the first one: 20/20 acuity. The others include accommodation (focus) ability, eye teaming ability, eye movement ability, visual perception ability, eye-hand coordination ability, and visual imagery ability. There is a chapter on each one detailing its importance to learning. There is a list of ten questions to ask yourself about what you see happening with your child as well as  questions in each chapter which are specific to each of the visual abilities. When I asked my daughter the questions, I realized that even though she was not visibly struggling, she had a serious eye teaming issue. You’ll be able to address each potential issue using these helpful questions. 

 

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Susan Barry’s book provides the perspective of a neuroscientist going through vision therapy as an older adult and is fascinating reading. It was actually the resource that gave me hope that I could have success in gaining stereopsis (3D vision). She began vision therapy at the age of 48 and I was about that age when I started my vision therapy journey. Her book is also what finally helped me decide to have surgery since it is important to get the eyes in alignment. I wasn’t able to align them on my own, despite years of trying, and the surgery provided that essential component.

<a target=”_blank” href=”https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0465020739/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0465020739&linkCode=as2&tag=healingmysigh-20&linkId=e37442aae8bcd2b93a25a5ff161eb4e5″><img border=”0″ src=”//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=0465020739&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format=_SL250_&tag=healingmysigh-20″ ></a><img src=”//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=healingmysigh-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0465020739″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

THEN FIND A QUALIFIED DOCTOR

Don’t rely on your pediatrician or regular eye doctor to let you know there’s a problem. They will not typically test for or recognize an issue. You MUST find a qualified Vision Therapy specialist by searching in your area on:  https://locate.covd.org/

logoCOVD is the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. The doctors who complete board certification have followed a stringent education program and demonstrated their competence. I trust that the doctors who fulfill these requirements are capable of helping their patients achieve their vision goals.

  • If you have more than one option, meet them, ask questions, see how you feel in their office under their care and decide on your plan of action accordingly.

Be sure to check to see if your insurance will cover the therapy, or whether you can use a flex spending account or HSA to cover the cost, since vision therapy can be expensive.

OTHER RESOURCES TO EXPLORE

Computer programs: Your doctor may have you use supplementary computer programs for your home therapy. These are best used with doctor supervision, or at least initial direction from your doctor. The one I used is no longer supported, but there will be other options available. I plan to take a look at some of the new options and review them in future blog posts.

Patient blogs: Several vision therapy patients have shared their experiences in the past few years through blogs and books. Some of them are no longer blogging and have removed their sites, but others are still available. You may enjoy Sue Barry’s blog, eyes on the brain at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eyes-the-brain. Artist, Lynda Rimke wrote a blog called wide-eyed wonder at https://leavingflatland.wordpress.com/. Her most recent post was January 2017.

A parent shares her child’s vision therapy story at https://theviewfromhere.me/?wref=bif.  She blogs from 2013-2014 until her daughter graduated from vision therapy.

Free Computer Games: Squinty Josh provides free vision therapy games that he created at his site: http://squintyjosh.blogspot.com/.  My favorite of his games, spelling bee,Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 9.02.21 PM is found here http://www.squintyjosh.com/spellingbee/. I used this game quite a bit, especially when I was on hiatus from in-office therapy as a way of keeping myself somewhat attached to the process. He blogged from 2011-2015.

The Blog that became a book: I like having the perspective of other patients to draw upon. It can also be hard to read when they are struggling right along with me. One that I actually commented on was Susana Zaraysky’s blog which is entitled one-eyed princess.

41-rd9vHwxL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Susana wrote a book about her experiences, also called One-Eyed Princess: Gaining depth in sight and mind. She contacted me when she was writing the book to ask for permission to include my comments anonymously. I was happy to oblige In fact, I would have been fine with her including my name. It’s available on Amazon for $15 for the print version or $5 in Kindle format. She gives lots of advice on how to support someone going through vision therapy, tips for patients and includes other helpful resources as well.

Still my favorites: I also really like the vision therapy story shared by Robin and Jillian Benoit in Jillian’s Story: how vision therapy changed my daughter’s life.  Jillian followed up with stories which her readers shared with her in the follow-up book Dear Jillian: Vision Therapy Changed my Life too. (More information about these and other books are included in my previous post about vision therapy resources from April 2013.)

These resources are just a start. There are also many websites available from various vision therapy doctors, which I will detail in a separate post. When you google vision therapy, those are likely the ones which will come up. Vision Therapy results are unpredictable. It may be that you respond right away and finish in the “normal” amount of time for your condition, or it may take much longer. It may even require surgery, like in my case, but it’s worth the effort!

 

Achieving Stereopsis

I have written this post a hundred times in my mind over the course of the last year and two months. I should have been so excited to share the news that I’d be shouting it from the rooftop! However, it has taken me a while to accept the fact that success doesn’t have to look the way I wanted it to look.
In December 2017, I made the decision I had been avoiding for years and made an appointment to see an ophthalmologist about eye surgery. Prior to that decision, I had exhausted every possible vision therapy option, including waiting for Dr. Davies to be trained in Syntonics. I was the first patient to use the protocol, even though they encouraged him to not choose the most difficult patient first. I didn’t notice any improvement, so that didn’t last long.
The determining factor in making this choice was that I was reading again in Susan Barry’s book Fixing my Gaze and came across the spot where she talked about how it’s possible to gain stereopsis when the eyes are properly aligned.  Somehow I missed that detail when I first read the book. She recounted how she had eye surgery as a child and had enjoyed good cosmetic results, (i.e. her eyes were aligned prior to vision therapy.) That statement hit me with such force! I said to myself “that’s what I’m missing! I can’t make my eyes align, so my brain can’t do what I’ve been trying to teach it!” I had been hoping that when my brain knew, my eyes would cooperate, but that wasn’t happening.
Surgery had been recommended prior to this point, so it may be a mystery why I was so resistant to it. The reason is that basically I don’t go to any doctors, so the only doctor I had seen in many years was my vision therapy optometrist, Dr. Davies. If you’re wondering how I managed that, its because I gave birth to my last four babies at home with a midwife and any time someone gets sick I pull out the homeopathic remedies. I have a chiropractor and body work specialist for the aches and pains and seldom get any kind of sickness. Even though my brother had three eye muscle surgeries as an infant and young child, with good results, I didn’t want to go under the knife. We tend to hear all the horror stories about surgery instead of all the successes!
In July 2016, I started receiving insurance benefits at work after twenty-five years of having no insurance due to self-employment. With my insurance came a health savings account, where I was able to accumulate some funds towards the $4500 deductible and my mom offered to help because she knew how much it meant to me to resolve my eye issues. My excuses were evaporating! I finally realized that my dream of achieving stereopsis with vision therapy alone was at an end.

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Just before surgery

Dr. David Petersen was recommended to me by my vision therapy optometrist, Dr. Jarrod Davies. At my preliminary visit in January, I met Dr. Petersen and his staff and felt very comfortable with them. He went over what he would recommend and completed initial testing. They were getting a new machine in their office that measured stereopsis ability and they wanted to test me before scheduling the surgery. It was intended to make sure I wouldn’t end up with double vision. I readily agreed to wait for the machine to arrive. It took a little longer than expected, but when I completed the testing, I did exceptionally well. I’m sure it was due to all the vision therapy I’ve done over the past few years. My eyes wanted to work together, they just needed alignment.

Surgery was scheduled and I was told I would need to wear glasses for a few weeks with a prism attached to the left lens. The prism was designed to mimic the change that would occur in my vision with the surgery. I haven’t worn glasses full time since I was 15 years old, so that brought back all kinds of unpleasant feelings from my childhood, and the prism made my eyes look pretty funny. It seemed to bother me more than anyone else though, and before I knew it the day for surgery arrived. My eyes looked their very worst right before the surgery because of the effects of the prism.
My mom drove me to the hospital and waited during the procedure. The staff at the hospital were amazing and encouraging, telling me how great my doctor was. It went extremely well and I was soon on my way home to recuperate. After two doses of pain killers I decided to take only my homeopathic remedy, Arnica. I finished the antibiotic recommended, but otherwise just took Arnica. I had the surgery on Thursday, March 23, 2017 and was back to work by Monday, March 27.  I took it easy physically for a couple of days, but basically continued my normal routine.  My eyes were pretty red initially, but when I went back for my one week checkup, Dr. Petersen was amazed at how quickly I was recovering.
I attribute my quick recovery to my choices regarding medication and my healthy lifestyle, but also feel very blessed that the process was physically so easy. Emotionally, though, I was still grieving the fact that I had to resort to surgery. My eyes feel different than they did before the surgery. It’s difficult to explain, but it feels like it did when I wore the prism. I can feel that they work differently. Sometimes I forget about it and everything seems normal. Then I wonder whether I am fusing correctly and the feeling returns. I know there are times when I revert to my old way of seeing.
A few days after the surgery I resumed vision therapy and had a weekly session for several more months. I had a little bit of double vision initially, but nothing like what I had experienced prior to the surgery. (Concern over double vision was the reason we had not used prisms in my therapy up to that point.) At the conclusion of my therapy, Dr. Davies said my vision is comparable to Sue Barry’s, the author of Fixing my Gaze, who had inspired me. I am so very grateful! I can now see in 3D and the world looks different!
IMG_5766 (1)It’s taken me a long time, but I have accepted the fact that for some of us, surgery is a necessary component to achieving more normal vision. I’m glad it wasn’t necessary for my daughter or my son, and that they were able to have vision therapy in their youth.  But for me, eye muscle surgery was the key to success.
My intention in sharing my story is to reassure others that the solutions are there, we just have to find our way to the appropriate option for our individual needs.
Feel free to comment below. I plan to post additional updates regularly from now on.

The Promised Update

I promised an update and unfortunately that did not occur in a timely manner. I apologize for that. I had an evaluation by my vision therapy doctor on August 20, 2013 and learned that I had not made any observable progress towards my goal of stereopsis. I became discouraged and stopped working on any vision therapy. I have told myself that I should start again, but have not followed through on that intention. The E.Y.E. unit, or Eyeport Vision Training system apparently did not help in my case. I went through the recommended 12 weeks of exercises plus a few additional weeks before my doctor evaluated my progress in 2013.

My doctor has recently encouraged me to try it again, so that will be part of my new regimen. I will also be looking for things I can do between phone calls in the off season at work. I have been working for the past 21 months as an insurance agent, selling medicare supplements over the phone. That means I am looking at a computer screen for 6+ hours per day. I feel like my vision has gotten worse and my eye turn is more pronounced, so it’s time to take action. Even though my doctor didn’t observe improvement, I felt like my eyes were improving while I was in vision therapy, and it was easier to do the limited things I could do (like fusion up to 12”).

Additionally, my daughter was evaluated at her yearly checkup and she had lost some ground. We had a few therapy sessions to get her back up to speed.  I guess my family is among those who need to keep doing vision therapy exercises at home in order to retain their results. Our doctor recommended she do therapy at home once a week. She continues to have great results from vision therapy. I have not achieved my results yet, but I’m still on my way.

More Evidence that Vision Therapy Works!

ImageLast week I expressed my gratitude for my vision therapy journey because doing it for myself has meant that I discovered my daughter needed it and she had great results! Three weeks after that discovery, I took my 16-year-old son in for a routine exam. Because Dr. Davies does comprehensive exams, he discovered Andrew had convergence insufficiency. It was as bad as he had ever seen. Wow! Finally an explanation for why my son didn’t do his school work.

Andrew could do the work, but most of the time he chose not to. This had been the pattern for years. If he really liked his teacher, or the subject, he would do it, but usually not. He didn’t qualify for any special help because he was able to do the work. We had him tested in sixth grade for learning issues at a brain balance type facility, and he was ok. They said he could improve in a couple of categories, one being visual memory, but that alone didn’t seem to warrant their expensive program.

We did counseling through the school district, he participated in the study skills class, had extra time to do his work during a lunch/study program and still he was failing classes. If he completed an assignment, he got an A. He just didn’t do very many assignments.

After years of this pattern, and him thinking of himself as lazy, things didn’t shift immediately. Andrew completed vision therapy in 23 sessions and I anticipated he would begin to do all of his schoolwork, but he didn’t. Things improved, but he was still failing his classes.

download-1A bright spot in the struggle was that he had been fixing broken screens on iPods and iPhones for friends as a hobby, usually for not much more than his cost. After vision therapy, he decided to place an online ad and start a business fixing broken screens, and charge a more reasonable rate. He has continued to do screen repair and he has business as long as he keeps his ad current. He’s also had repeat customers:)

A couple of months after finishing VT, we made a real paradigm shift and switched high schools. The new charter school was smaller, had less busy work and more in-depth discussions. He started participating more in class, smiling, making friends and was generally happier. It took longer to transition into doing all the coursework, but now he is on track to graduate from high school. Vision therapy has given him the focus to better reach his goals. His next regular checkup showed he had regressed a little, but he can do home therapy to hone his skills.

I wish we had discovered vision therapy when he was six instead of sixteen. My feeling is that his motivation and confidence could have been dramatically improved had that been the case. But we are getting there and I am extremely grateful!