I was eight when I was first diagnosed with a lazy eye. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as my mother had one, and so many direct relations had needed glasses that it was probably a matter of when and not if. Like a lot of kids with lazy eyes, they tried strengthening my lazy eye with an eye patch. Thing is, that only works if you’re consistent with it. I was eight when that responsibility got dumped in my lap and, like many eight-year-olds who were given no help or guidance in having to handle that kind of responsibility, I dropped the ball. To make matters worse, after a year or so my glasses no longer fit my head and started to hurt so I couldn’t wear them.
Due to the financial challenges my family had, I didn’t get new ones until I was almost thirteen. This time I was able to keep up with the eye patch thing and see progress because, at thirteen, I had a better sense of responsibility than at eight. Then my glasses broke. They were never replaced by my parents. At twenty, I finally had to use some of my financial aid money to fund my own glasses because I was getting headaches in college classes where the board was too far away. At that age, I was told it was too late to try strengthening my lazy eye and that nothing except an updated prescription could be done.
Seventeen years later, I found out about vision therapists. Vision therapy is a sort of specialty for an optometrist. They help with situations where your eyes don’t correctly work together, like when you have a lazy eye. A lot of their clients are kids or people who have had head injuries that have resulted in vision issues, but they can still work with adults with lazy eyes. I had mentioned being way overdue for updated glasses to my best friend, who asked if I had ever seen a vision therapist for my lazy eye after I mentioned that I think my eyesight in my “good” eye had gotten worse and who knew if anything could be done to help it.
“Wait? A vision therapist is an option?” I had asked. “No one has ever told me that was an option, and I have had a lazy eye for almost thirty years.”
Apparently, a lot of people have my reaction.
I made the appointment and decided, worst-case scenario, I would be paying for a more expensive evaluation and at least have an updated prescription, but, if I was lucky, I might walk away with some options I did not know were available.
The evaluation is two hours long and gets divided over two days because you will be working your eyes pretty hard. The first day was with an assistant and was a series of tests I jokingly called “highly documented proof” of my lazy eye. A lot of them were designed to check for things like how my eyes do (or, in many cases, don’t) follow certain movements. During the testing, I noticed how I would switch which eye I was using to see things. I don’t catch it in my day-to-day existence, but because of the way the tests and equipment worked, I finally noticed it. I also noticed a habit I probably have but never noticed, which is a tendency to ever so slightly turn my head just enough to try to center my good eye on something. Another set of observations included asking me to copy a written passage by hand, and my tendency to slightly turn my paper at an angle is another quirk of mine that is trying to compensate for my vision issues.
On day two I met the optometrist herself, and she ran a series of additional tests investigating things like depth perception and hand/eye coordination while going over my history, all the way back to infancy. You see, when we’re born only 20% of our vision is developed. Certain infant activities like how we are fed, tummy time, crawling, and walking create a series of developmental stages for our vision too. I basically tried to skip crawling, which may have thrown off how my vision developed at that stage.
On the other hand, there does seem to be a genetic component to my lazy eye, which one of my kids also has, and he didn’t skip any of those stages. I discussed how much I had hated any sport involving a ball flying towards me because I seemed to have issues with timing things and got hit with balls a lot. To this day, if I pass a basketball hoop as a kid is trying to make a shot, I still involuntarily flinch. I was told my vision in particular tries to focus down. She says I may notice I hold my head down when I walk, which can make me seem shy or insecure because of this. (I caught myself doing that later that evening.)
I also may find myself losing track of the top section of a page when reading because my eyes try to shift to the bottom. I know I have done this, but I just chalked it up to being in a rush and not catching everything. That being said, I was an English teacher, so that part didn’t mess me up too badly or I never would have never gotten the degree that I did.
What surprised me is that I had more depth perception than I realized, but I was not surprised to hear my hand/eye coordination is wonky. She explained that if someone is injured and it impacts their vision, vision therapy is used to recalibrate their vision. I effectively never calibrated in the first place. What really surprised me is when she told me I was actually a good candidate for vision therapy and that there was something that could be done.
Vision therapy is going to take me about 4-6 months. I picked out a new frame for an updated prescription, and, as part of my therapy, the lenses get swapped out over time with new specialty lenses that should calibrate my eyes. My first set includes a prism and arrived just the other day. I am very excited that there may actually be something that can be done for my eyes, and I want to put the word out there that this is an option for people that had never heard of it or never realized it was an option for adults.
The one warning I will give is that vision therapy does not tend to be covered by insurance and does not come cheap. We’re being quoted $8000-$9000 before all is said and done. As someone who went through a period of my life where I could not regularly have glasses, I get that this is an option that may be hard to afford for a lot of families. I am lucky that I am in a place where we can pull it off. I can’t change the price tag, but I do plan on giving an update when my vision therapy time is done and sharing the impact it is had on me.