It takes a lot of bravery to share a story of difficulties with reading, writing and academics. It takes even more bravery to make this story public, but Helena told me that it’s all worth it if she can prevent even one other child from struggling the way that she did. Another piece that is very important to her was ensuring that parents and educators understand the learning problems that can be caused by vision conditions. Helena’s mother, Anita Murray-Hill, has teamed up with another mother of a vision therapy patient, Jenn Gibson, to co-found The Visual Process. The Visual Process is a not-for-profit society aimed at increasing awareness, informing public policy, and helping provide fundraising avenues for families or individuals in need of vision therapy. Here is an excerpt from the Times Colonist, and following that, the story from the Saanich News.
Saanich mom Anita Murray-Hill and her husband always knew something was “not quite right” in the world of their daughter.
Always bright and articulate, Helena would hide in a cubicle at kindergarten to block out the confusion in class. Later, despite good marks for reading and her love of a good story, the now-13-year-old Helena always avoided books.
And she was physically clumsy, forever tripping, stumbling or bumping into things.
“She would say: ‘But Mummy, the wall jumped out at me,’ and my husband and I would groan and roll our eyes,” said Murray-Hill.
Helena’s eyes tested fine. Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit, dyslexia, dysgraphia (a writing disability) were all suspected. Even podiatrists checked her feet because they always seemed to be going astray.
Finally, came a disastrous Grade 5 at Arbutus Global Middle School a local private school (Arbutus was where Helena attended gr 6). The teacher was forever exasperated, even cruel, over Helena’s inability to look from the board to her book and back again. So Anita went back to the eye doctor.
“And I finally said to Helena: ‘Is there anything, anything at all, you want to tell the eye doctor?’ and she said: ‘Well, when I read I close one eye,’” said Murray-Hill.
The eye doctor found Helena had double vision. He sent her to Victoria optometrist Cameron McCrodan. Besides double vision, McCrodan also specializes in developmental optometry. And he discovered Helena’s eyes were not tracking properly.
After about nine months of therapy at his clinic, McCrodan Vision Development, Helena’s vision and reading issues have largely cleared up.
Developmental optometry, said McCrodan, treats eyesight as a growth issue. It assists people with meeting the developmental milestones to good vision most of us hit as we grow up.
As balance, co-ordination and strength come together to allow us to walk, a developmental milestone, eyes learn to track objects, focus and remain on target to allow us to see properly, also a milestone.
McCrodan explains vision is complex. The two eyes must work and focus in conjunction. The brain must integrate the two images from the eyes into one three-dimensional image.
For a demonstration, look at something across the room. Your eyes should point straight ahead. Meanwhile, your brain assembles the two images from each eye into one.
Now, move your eyes from across the room to focus on the tip of a finger, about half an arm’s length in front of your face. Your eyes will align slightly cross-eyed. But your brain will still process the information to make one image.
And you should switch easily from across the room to the tip of your finger, with the eyes moving and adjusting focus without any delay.
“The visual system is one of the more complex systems in your brain,” McCrodan said. “It uses more areas of the brain than just about anything else.”
But people whose vision has not developed can have problems keeping the eyes fixed properly for an appropriate length of time. Double vision can be a continual distraction. Or they might not be able to rest on any one thing for an appropriate time.
Imagine reading a book. But your vision can’t track from one word in a sentence to another.
Instead, you go from one word at the beginning of the page to another toward the end. You then decipher a phrase in the middle of the page but do it backward. You then dart back to land on another word elsewhere but decipher it backward and so on.
Therapy, for this condition, however, works to build an awareness in the patient of how their eyes are seeing and functioning and provide practice to do it properly.
One simple exercise is known as Brock’s string. Patients look at three beads, set at different spots along a single string. Holding one end of the string to their nose and looking down, patients practise focusing on one bead, then another and another in succession.
Another is a touch screen full of type, and patients track letters or symbols moving through it. They touch the screen to indicate where their symbol has been and where it’s expected to go.
“We don’t ever teach people to read,” McCrodan said. “We just make sure the visual system can handle the activity.”
Amazingly, even without therapy the brain can compensate for visual development problems. Kids can learn to read even when their vision is malfunctioning. But it can be exhausting. So they read. But they just hate it.
They can also compensate by becoming articulate speakers or by being good at memorization. Anything to avoid reading.
People can even have vision developmental problems and have eyesight that tests well.
“Parents get their kid’s eyes checked and they are told: ‘He can see 20/20; he could be a fighter pilot,’” McCrodan said.
So tragically, some children with vision development issues get labelled as “slow” or are misdiagnosed as having attention deficit disorder or autism.
McCrodan said he tries to stay away from discussion of things like autism, dyslexia or attention deficit. All those conditions are outside his expertise. But if a person diagnosed with any of them is trained to see properly, it can only be a benefit.
“Regardless of whether there is attention deficit or any of those other things, you still want to treat the vision-skill problems,” McCrodan said.
For Helena, nine months of therapy amounted to a whole new life, where instead of being treated for anxiety she found peace.
She is now a voracious reader, burning her way through everything from fantasy novels to historical texts.
Now in her sixth year of learning classical harp, Helena can sight-read her music. She is also studying at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and beginning music theory.
More, perhaps a holdover from her compensation days, she can memorize her music quicker than the other students in her class.
“Helena will look at the page and say: ‘OK, I’ve got it’ and the others stare and say: ‘How do you memorize so fast?’” Anita said.
The girl has gone from begging her parents to hire a special math tutor in Grade 5 to scoring over 90 per cent in the same subject in Grade 6 on her own.
Perhaps most important, Helena has gone from a child, who in primary level had trouble keeping friends, to a young person with a close-knit group of pals.
“She is just calm now,” said Anita. “She is just so much happier.”
– See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/vision-therapy-gives-saanich-girl-new-view-on-life-1.1380600#sthash.FBcDsO2A.dpuf Saanich News:
Helena Murray-Hill didn’t know why she was beginning to bump into walls.
Her anxiety was also on the rise – she recalls having to escape a crowded room – but it wasn’t until Helena happened upon an attentive optometrist that she discovered her problem had a relatively straightforward solution. The optometrist began by asking Helena how she reads.
“I close one eye,” she responded.
Since that fateful day a year and a half ago, Helena, 13, has been working with Cameron McCrodan, a Saanich optometrist with a primary focus on behavioural optometry. McCrodan uses a method called visual therapy to treat vision inefficiencies.
“Standard eye exams do not test someone’s tracking efficiency and accuracy,” McCrodan said. “Headaches, crowd anxiety (can be) related to the inability to focus.”
Helena was an A student in Grades 4 and 5 at Arbutus Global middle school, so her behavioural shift seemed odd to mother Anita Murray-Hill.
Helena wouldn’t touch a book outside of school, and as other issues arose, Anita saw enough of a pattern that she and Helena spent the better part of two years trying to figure out what was wrong.
Medical doctors, a counsellor, an occupational therapist and other experts all had their say, but none could get to the root of the problem. At one point, Helena was falsely diagnosed with dysgraphia, a form of writing deficiency.
McCroden is now assisting a new non-profit society, The Visual Process, created by Anita and Sooke teacher Jenn Gibson, which educates parents and teachers about learning and behaviour-related vision problems and the subsequent quality of life impact on children.
“I was once working with a 50-year-old man,” McCrodan said. “Once diagnosed, he said, ‘I always thought I didn’t like to read because I was stupid.’ People also assume these are personality faults. I’ve seen a few dads break down in tears because they’d called their kid lazy.”
Tracking assumes the eyes move together, but it’s estimated that as many as one in four people unknowingly struggle with the problem. In kids with learning disabilities, poor tracking can be seen in 80 per cent of cases, McCroden says.
Gibson, who lives in Colwood, said her 10-year-old daughter was in a similar situation.
After Julia took the College of Optometrists in Vision Development Quality of Life Checklist, Jenn said she recognized some of the symptoms in her students as well.
“Kids scrunching their faces, laying on the desk and peeking out with one eye, acting out,” Gibson said. “We want The Visual Process to teach educators and parents to recognize these issues early, but it’s also for people of all ages. There is a 91 year old in therapy. It can always be treated.”
To find out more, visit thevisualprocess.com.