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Vision Therapy Success Stories

RE: Vision Therapy or Surgery for Exotropia
by Mrs. Hyden

Below is a thank-you letter sent to an eye doctor who provides Optometric Visual Therapy or Visual Training. It describes her research into treatment options for her daughter's exotropia and her choice of Vision Therapy over surgery.

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Dear Dr.,

Here we are at the end of our daughter Haley's therapy sessions and we can't believe how far we've come. A year ago we were being told that our only option was surgery. She was diagnosed with intermittent exotropia, which means her eyes have a tendency to go out instead of focusing on what she's seeing. I am writing this letter not only to thank you and your amazing staff of therapists, but also for any other parents who need some affirmation that therapy works and could for them, too, be an alternative to surgery.

When we were being told by the pediatric eye doctor we were seeing that Haley's condition was 'neurological' and therefore only treatable with surgery, I asked to speak to other parents who had had the surgery for their kids. After all, this was about our most loved possession in the world and we were looking at a very frightening wall. It became apparent that this request was not one they often got. It took doggedly calling that office, to plead with them to follow up, for about four months before they were finally able to give me a couple of parents to call. These parents were extremely nice and more than willing to speak of their experiences, but neither had the condition that our daughter has. What I did learn was that when a small child has corrective eye surgery, the likelihood of having to repeat surgery as that child grows is extremely high. One parent I spoke with had a child, who had just turned thirteen, and had just undergone his third eye surgery. The other parent I spoke to was anticipating a second surgery for her child. As in our case, neither of those families were told of therapy being an alternative to surgery. We had been to that office six times over six months charting Haley's condition. Each time, that office was packed with kids. I'm sure that surgery is absolutely necessary at times, but I'll bet a lot of those kids would have benefited from therapy.

But here's the ironic thing -- most insurance will pay for surgery, but not therapy. This is such a monumental disservice. The fact that therapy is not covered by insurance forces many families to opt for surgery. But then, most people aren't even made aware that therapy is even an option. The climate in our eye doctor's office was 'sit and be quiet.' I was told by the staff that if a child isn't in her seat when the doctor came into the room, that he would turn around and leave for the next patient. We had always to be on best behavior there. Also in the doctor's rulebook, was that the parents sit in a chair and remain seated and quiet throughout his exams. We could ask questions after this exam, but his answers were fragmented, he talked in circles, and it was extremely frustrating. That's initially why I thought we'd gain from speaking to other parents. Now, I honestly don't think he really knew the answers to my questions. I wanted to know how Haley's condition labeled "intermittent', meaning 'not consistent' and 'not always,' could be fixed with surgery. Never, never, never, did I ever get an answer that I could make any sense out of. This doctor's policy of 'sit and be quiet', sets up an intimidating psychology. One that makes parents feel powerless and, thus, more apt to give their blind faith.

We felt we owed it to ourselves and to Haley and her future, to just go ahead and look into other options. Even though we honestly didn't know if therapy was for us. After all, we'd been told time and time again that she needed surgery. My husband set about searching the Internet and found your website. It was very enlightening and gave us hope. We contacted you immediately. I'll never forget our first appointment with you. Unlike the surgeon who wanted me to say in my seat, you wanted me to step forward and please witness what you were finding with Haley's eyes. I will never forget that. What a gift you had just handed us!! For the first time, being asked to be a part of Haley's condition, as well as part of the solution. I saw you give her tests which showed me for the first time, the severity. I saw for the first time, what a difficult time our precious baby must have been having all along. It still brings me tears. You went on to explain what we could do in therapy to remedy Haley's eyes, but we'd already made up our minds. We were going to give therapy a try and be a part of a system where we, as parents, were going to be active participants.

Here's what life was like 'before' Vision Therapy. First of all, we were lucky to have caught the problem when Haley was just four. Even though we'd always thought something was amiss, our previous pediatrician in NYC thought her eyes were just fine. But we were seeing various developmental things that made us wonder. Things that were being dismissed by teachers and her doctor as 'just part of her personality.' We have an incredibly bright and monumentally creative child. Yet she would not sit down and do a puzzle, unless I sat down for long periods and made the pieces come to life. In other words, by engaging her creative and compassionate side. For instance, a frog puzzle...the froggy would be sad he was missing his other eye or his leg, etc. Blocks? Not interested. Catching a ball? Forget about it. Art? Not interested. Basically, anything she needed to focus her eyes on, except playing with dolls. None of this made sense because she was so bright and inquisitive and creative. I would look at other kids around her, younger than she, thriving on these basics. Then Haley got a new best friend, Nina, when we moved to the west coast. Another bright, creative kid. I noticed how Nina would look at me intently while speaking and I started noticing the same with other kids. I watched the way they looked at things, at people. And I watched Haley. Haley, being very dramatic and talkative, would never focus for very long on anyone or anything. This had always been a part of her 'personality.' But I began to worry that the 'Nina's' would someday leave her behind. Our new pediatrician recognized immediately that Haley had a vision problem and we set about getting a diagnosis, which eventually led us to you, Doctor.

And here's how life has changed since Vision Therapy. I would say sometime about a third of the way through, we started to really see Haley focus on objects near and far and hold her eyes on people while speaking to them. For some reason, that was really important to me. I guess, it helped me to see that she'd now have a chance in school and hopefully excel. She'll never get mislabeled as ADD. Then about halfway through, she just took out a puzzle one day and wanted to do it all on her own, and proceeded to do so. That just blew me away! She's still not as fast at putting them together as others her age, but at least she has the interest now and she steadily improves. Now she can focus on what she's looking at! There's this one vision test where you look at a line of objects and one object is supposed to come forward. I think it's a depth of field test? Anyway, Haley didn't get any of those on her exam here. At her halfway exam she sailed through all of them! Haley had had a very difficult time focusing and getting her eyes to 'fuse.' Now, it's no problem. And now she draws every day. When asked what her favorite thing to do is, she says "Drawing." She told me yesterday "Drawing is my life!" And she loves to paint now. She likes thick, drippy paint. Her favorite artist is Vincent Van Gogh. She even painted valentines for all her classmates that were with thick, swirly paint, inspired by Van Gogh. We see her eyes focusing on things up close more and more. Even things like looking at her sandwich while eating it are positive signs to us. And now she can catch a ball with the best of kids her age, and probably better! That's one thing my husband has done with her every night since therapy began. It was always a part of her nightly Vision Therapy. And she's developed an amazing throwing arm! That kid can whip the ball and with accuracy. It's taken a lot of hard work, and hours and hours of life, but we can't think of anything more worthwhile. And we are proud of Haley. She's five now and getting ready to start Kindergarten. She has concentrated and worked very hard and as a result has shown she can control her condition. I think she feels empowered by it.

She's still very young, so I guess it's hard to say what her outlook will be. Will this have been enough to last a lifetime? I know that even after our therapy sessions are over, we will continue exercises at home. And I know that we are extremely happy that we took this route. Looking back, surgery seems a barbaric choice. We feel like it very well could have made the whole situation worse, by trying to surgically fix an 'intermittent' problem. If we ever need to repeat anything, I'd much rather repeat therapy than repeat surgery.

So, thank you very much, Doctor. Thanks to you and your therapists. We are very happy and grateful patients!

Karen Hyden and Simeon Soffer,
parents of Haley Hyden-Soffer

For more information on exotropia, go to: All About Strabismus -- Exotropia.

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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