When Pookie was three-and-a-half, he started putting letters together to make words. Though I was surprised–he still only recognized less than half of the alphabet–I hauled out my early-reading materials and prepared for him to progress. Only he didn’t. At first I assumed it was a readiness issue; he was very young, after all, and though his siblings also learned to read young, perhaps the fact that he couldn’t remember all of his letters was holding him back. But after a full year with no progress, I began to wonder if there was more going on. After all, ‘Love’s childhood medical records indicated that he had received vision therapy for tracking issues.
After receiving several recommendations for a particular optometrist, I called and made an appointment. I had been warned that it would be pricey, but $250 (sans vision insurance) for a 75-minute-long, in-depth assessment that included a retinal scan didn’t seem too shocking. The first appointment confirmed my suspicion–there were a few issues that deserved more attention. A second appointment (another $350) involved another hour of interactive assessments for my little guy while I was provided with information on vision therapy and was told to expect a price tag of $3-4,000 for six months of treatment. At the hour-long follow-up appointment (included in the cost, thankfully), the optometrist gave us a report on the testing that had been done and how our son had performed. It was very thorough and helpful, and most of what she said made a lot of sense with what I had observed.
Then came the bombshell: the cost was going to be $6,400 for 34 weekly, 45-minute therapy appointments (plus one or two additional progress assessments). Reeling from the unexpected price hike, ‘Love and I walked out with heavy hearts. We had been braced to pay $500 a month for treatment we thought would have long-term benefits for our son; this amount would have been a stretch, but it was attainable. Finding an extra $750 a month, however, was simply out of the question. But how could we walk away from something that would help our child succeed in life?
Enter our knight in shining armor, cleverly disguised as an OT-turned-stay-at-home-mom friend. Immediately after learning the steep cost of this treatment, I had to haul my kids to gymnastics, where she asked why I looked so upset. After I explained the situation, she lit up. As an OT in a poor school in South Africa, she had contact with a group of optometrists who performed annual eye tests on the students. They had provided her with a binder full of instructions for various vision therapy exercises. Would I like to see if she could find the binder?
Later that week, a thick blue binder in hand, my friend informed me that she had seen significant improvements in the students with whom she had used the materials. “Give it six weeks,” she said. “I always saw improvement after about six weeks.”
So we started doing the activities, a few minutes each day of silly things like fishing with magnets and stringing beads with one eye covered. At least I felt like I was doing something for my child, and the activities were so playful that all three kids wanted to participate.
Seemingly without warning, Pookie took off. He who struggled to count to 30 was suddenly proudly counting to 100. He who struggled to read more than one word on the white board and simply could not focus on print words picked up Go, Dog! Go! and began patiently plodding through page after page. After about a week of rapid progress, I thought to look at the calendar. Sure enough, we were now nearly seven weeks into our vision activities.
Perhaps the timing was mere coincidence; one never can tell when children are going to make sudden leaps. Still, after more than a year without measurable progress, his sudden blossoming was uncanny.
At any rate, I’m here to reassure you: if you lament the fact that vision therapy is so expensive and feel that panic about your child’s future as we did, know that it is possible to provide some vision therapy at home. As my OT friend pointed out, vision therapy at home is like sending your child to gymnastics or dance class rather than OT–they’ll be doing many of the same activities either way, but the therapist is able to provide targeted practice in the areas of greatest need, while the general class teacher is providing a broad palette of experiences to address all learners. Though I’m not exactly certain which of the activities we do are the most helpful for his particular issues, I am covering a broad range of vision exercises; some will work on things he’s already doing adequately, but others will force him to practice things he struggles with. I may not be as adept as a therapist would be as I bumble along doing activities whose purpose I don’t fully understand, but a bumbling something is better than nothing at all.
The materials I was given by my friend are simple, typed pages of instructions with absolutely no copyright information anywhere on them. And since they are activities that are both surprisingly easy and surprisingly fun, I thought I’d share at least some of them in order to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation. Since this post is getting rather long, however, I think perhaps I’ll share those activities in my next post.