“Vision Has Nothing To Do With Reading”

Here is a comical look at a serious subject, the lack of the proper diagnosis of vision problems that can affect learning.  Unfortunately, this still occurs all too frequently.

As they say in Hollywood, “this movie is based on a true story…” in this case, my story.  Let me explain.

When I was 17, I was a freshman at Colgate University.  I was always a good student in high school, but the workload was significantly greater now.  I noticed that in fact I was getting headaches, eyestrain, blurred and double vision, and my eyes were consistently bloodshot (I was getting accused of doing things I really wasn’t doing -really).

I called home and my mother told me to see an ophthalmologist.  There wasn’t one in Hamilton, NY but there was one in Clinton, about 30 miles away.  I borrowed a friend’s car and drove to Clinton for my eye examination.  Soon after arriving, I was atropinized, examined, and then called into the consultation room of the ophthalmologist.  I remember through my blurred, light sensitive eyes, he looked something like an ogre, a tall ominous figure with a bald, somewhat pointy head.  Nonetheless, he offered what he considered “fatherly” advice.  Namely, that  I was in college now, bone up, study, and stop complaining, as there was nothing wrong with my eyes.   He sent me on my way into the bright, sunny afternoon (without disposable sunglasses).  Somehow, I made it home, resigned to the fact that college was going to be a painful experience at best.

Soon after, I noticed a classmate (for whom english was a second language), was using a new invention of the 1970’s, the cassette tape recorder, to record his lectures.  I invested in one myself, and soon was recording all of my most challenging classes.  By being able to listen to the lecture (sometimes numerous times) and write down notes, I was able to spare my visual system significantly (at least in my science courses which didn’t require as much outside reading).  My grades improved dramatically and I graduated with excellent grades.  However, when people describe college as the best 4 years of their lives, I have to disagree, as I was spending most of my spare time in transcription!

Serendipitously, I applied to Pennsylvania College of Optometry and was accepted.  In my first year, I was examined by a third year student.  For those of you who have been in a similar situation, it’s never a good sign when a student doctor gathers all the interns and doctors on the floor to look at you.  However, everyone was interested to see my severe convergence insufficiency which had signs which included 18pd of exophoria and a nearpoint of convergence of 16″.

I was referred to Pediatric and Binocular Vision Department at The Eye Institute where the Chief at the time was none other than my current esteemed colleague and great friend,  Dr. Len Press.  He treated me with vision therapy, and soon I was able to read and study much more efficiently and without all the headaches, eyestrain, and other symptoms that had become so much a part of my life.

I was, of course, “hooked” on vision therapy and Developmental Optometry after that, and thankfully have devoted my professional career to this amazing optometric specialty, and have had the pleasure of being able to help so many patients.  However, everyday I see children and adults who are not as fortunate as I was.  I hope for the day when they do not need to suffer needlessly with these very treatable vision conditions.

Barry Tannen, O.D., FCOVD

11 thoughts on ““Vision Has Nothing To Do With Reading”

  1. Dr. Tannen,
    Thank you so much for sharing this! This gets me so fired up! How many other college students are struggling needlessly? I think it’s awesome that as a former VT patient you now share your VT knowledge with others so that they can have full access to the future before them. This makes me think every tutoring center on every college campus needs some information about VT and some places to call for free vision screenings. And, since I work at Newman University, I guess they’ll be the first on my list. Okay – off to bother Dr. Cline at Wichita Vision Care! 😉
    Thanks again,
    Kelly Snedden

  2. You’re very welcome Kelly. I think it’s wonderful that this post motivated you to take action and help other students. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that every positive action that we each take can make a big difference in someone’s life. In that regard, you’ve made my day!

  3. This is so hilarious and, at the same time, so sad. Far too often, we Developmental Optometrists, hear this story; and because of it, so many people are marginalized from a life of they dream of.

  4. To emphasize your point even more…in my role one day per week as lecturer of the Vision Therapy course and a clinical supervisor in the Vision Therapy Clinic at SUNY Optometry, I am always amazed (I guess I should be used to it by now), how many optometry students are “visual cripples.” The degree to which I can help them is one way of “paying back” the help I received in optometry school.

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  6. Thanks for sharing Dr. Tannen! Always wonderful to hear personal testimonies from people who found vision therapy to be successful, especially from doctors who practices it 🙂

  7. Pingback: More on Dyslexia and Vision « The VisionHelp Blog

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