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Misdiagnosed as Untreatable "Lazy Eye" as a Child

Thanks to Non-surgical Vision Therapy, I Gained Normal Vision and Binocular Depth Perception (3D Stereo Vision) as an Adult
by Rachel Cooper

(Note: binocular means two-eyed. In normal human vision, the two eyes work as a coordinated team to create 3D vision and depth perception.)

My "lazy eye" was first detected in a free public school eye examination when I was seven years old (belated thanks to the State of Pennsylvania for that free eye exam!). This led to my first visit to an eye doctor. I don't remember anything about that encounter. All I know is that I came away with a pair of glasses and no patching or Vision Therapy was recommended. For the next ten years I would struggle with wearing either glasses or contact lenses.

By the time I was twelve years old I had been examined several times by two new eye doctors: one ophthalmologist (hi, Dr. Feldman of Champaign, Illinois) and one optometrist (I remember him, but not his name). Both doctors said exactly the same thing. They told me that my two eyes did not work together as a team; that I alternated between using one eye or the other, but seldom or never used both eyes together at the same time. Since I alternated between using both eyes, I had not lost too much vision in either eye. Still, they both described me as having "lazy eye." According to the eye doctors it was too late for surgery or patching -- nothing could be done to correct my "lazy eye." "I was too old." "It was too late" for me.

Of course, the doctors informed me, this meant I didn't have depth perception. "What's depth perception?" I asked. Vague descriptions ensued -- much like attempts to explain colors and rainbows to a blind person. I remember the optometrist stumbled and mumbled around a bit and finally declared that without depth perception it would be very difficult for me to catch a ball. Hmmm, I thought this one over. I already knew I couldn't catch a ball without major panic -- screaming, head ducking, arms flailing, etc. So far this embarrassing state of affairs hadn't killed me. This was also at a time when girls' sports were still a very low priority. After thinking it over, I decided being unable to catch a ball was not a serious handicap. No sweat, doc.

Out into the world the eye doctors sent me to live life without depth perception. Don't forget to wear your glasses, they called out after me. Again, no mention was made of the possibility of Vision Therapy or any type of rehabilitation. I didn't have depth perception and that was that.

No sweat? Well, not quite. Life was going to dish out a lot more than a few fly balls. Lots of surprises were right around the corner, too. Teenage years are full of challenges that beg for binocular (two-eyed) vision and depth perception. Soon there were geometry classes, attempts to make normal eye contact with boys, and driving lessons. I still remember that poor instructor who tried to teach me parallel parking in driver's training -- I could see those little veins popping out on his forehead even without normal depth perception.

Frankly, I was a dismal failure at all things 3D, yet somehow I stumbled through. And I do mean stumble. We folks without depth perception do tend to trip and bump into things quite a bit. And drop things a lot, too. "Oops -- sorry -- butterfingers!"

As I groped along, plenty of choices were made, of course. More than a few were influenced by my vision impairment. In my mid-teens I gave up on wearing glasses or contact lenses. I felt confused and uncomfortable when I wore prescription lenses, so I pitched it in. In my twenties, I moved to New York City where I wouldn't have to drive a car to get around. Whew. My former passengers were relieved, too!

In New York I heard for the first time about something called Vision Therapy. Dozens of people told me that they or their relatives had received Vision Therapy when they were children. They were cured! Their eyes looked straight. They had binocular (two-eyed) vision. I couldn't believe it. They were so matter-of-fact about it. It was just as if they were saying, "oh, yeah, I had braces when I was a kid - no biggie."

When I first heard of Vision Therapy, I didn't have health insurance. In my early twenties at the time, I concluded that if insurance wouldn't pay for it, I couldn't do it. Years later, I would look back on that logic as youthful folly.

The Very Happy Ending (and Beginning)
At long last, when I was almost 33 years old, I began regular Vision Therapy under the supervision of a behavioral optometrist (developmental optometrist) in New York city. After a year and a half of twice-a-week therapy, I was using both of my eyes together as a coordinated team. The world popped out in 3D and it stayed that way!

Today,I pass all the standard stereo vision tests (including the random dot stereogram). I use both of my eyes to see all the time.

Yes, I now have stereoscopic vision (stereopsis) and binocular depth perception! I'll admit that when I first began to see the visual world pop out in 3D I felt a lot like a formerly paralyzed person jumping out of a wheelchair and doing a jig. It felt like a miracle. It looked like a miracle. But . . . was it a miracle?

Not exactly. Human stereo vision may be a miracle (scientists still can't totally explain how it happens), but Vision Therapy (orthoptic therapy) is a medical science that has been around since the nineteenth century. I simply went to therapy, tried to be a good patient, and did what the eye doctor told me to do.

Ever since the day I saw the world popping out in 3D for the first time, I've wanted to tell others to appreciate the miracle of normal depth perception and 3D vision. You SEE, if you overcome a disability, you very likely won't take what you've gained for granted. What other people call normal will always be special to you!

It's been clear to me, however, that is it even more important to help others (especially children) with lazy eye or other 3D vision problems. I don't believe in "what-ifs" or "regrets" but I do know my life would have been completely different if I had received vision therapy as a child.

I've been telling my story with the written word since 1994 and I've been doing it on the web since 1996! In the early days of the web, I answered a lot of personal emails, but -- as the years have gone by -- I've seen the wisdom in answering people's questions by referring them to the wealth of web pages in The Optometrists Network at www.optometrists.org

Do you have questions? Please try looking for the answers by following the many links in Our Sites.

Remember, even if you feel alone, you are not! There are thousands and thousands of people with lazy eye and related binocular vision problems! Go ahead, follow the links below to learn more!

"Is it too late for me?" is a very common question. Read eye doctor's answers to this question by following the links below.

  1. When is it too late to treat lazy eye?
  2. Why does my eye doctor say it is too late?
    These questions are answered by eye doctor and expert, Dr. Jeffrey Cooper (no relation to Rachel Cooper).
  3. Is it true that there are certain conditions, like lazy eye, where the patient is too old, or it's too late to intervene with Vision Therapy?
    This question is answered by eye doctor and professor, Dr. Leonard J. Press. Look for question #13.

P.S.
Since I've acquired stereo vision people ask me to describe what it was like when I didn't have it. Here is a very short answer. The visual world looked flat. It felt like I was here and everything I was looking at was over there. I couldn't visually perceive or measure the space between me and other objects. Now that I see in 3D it feels like I am IN the world. Empty space looks and feels palpable, tangible -- ALIVE!

Well, friends, I've got to sign off for now. Remember . . . life really is better in 3D.


To locate an eye doctor who provides comprehensive pediatric vision examinations and treatment, including Vision Therapy, request a referral through our Referral Directory: Find a Pediatric Eye Doctor.

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