It is inevitable for those of us in the field of vision therapy to wonder about the impact we’re making on a young person’s life. If we do our jobs well, we get considerable positive feedback. But once in awhile you come across something so remarkable that it begs to be shared far and wide. The following essay was written by a graduate of our VT program as part of her requirement for college entry into Harvard University. To preserve patient confidentiality, I won’t reveal her name other than to say that it means “springlike” in Hebrew, and it is indeed a breath of fresh air. Veritas …
“The terror I experienced as a child waking into the JCC lobby overwhelmed me. Aided by my vivd imagination, my misaligned eyes interpreted the marble floor as a still pool of milky water. I was convinced that if I stepped forward, I would be sucked down and lost forever. For years I couldn’t enter a bank or museum without toe-testing to ensure the floor’s solidity.
This flawed perception resulted from strabismus with intermittent esotropia, which prevents my eyes from synchronizing or focusing correctly. Years of eye tests did not uncover the functional difficulties this caused; the ability to read an eye chart does not predict how one reads books, road signs, and smartboards. Because I was well spoken, teachers assumed inconsistent performance was due to effort, not ability. For years I struggled to keep up, having extreme academic highs and low, often in the same subject. I became frustrated from working my hardest with mixed results and not knowing why.
In time I developed coping mechanisms, which in turn became academic strengths. I relied on my creativity, developing strength as an artist in multiple fields and experimenting with assignments to find ways to express what I uniquely saw. By researching subjects in great depth, thus encountering recurring names and concepts, I could not only read faster but gained mastery of subjects and formed passionate opinions on topics as diverse as Benazir Bhutto’s legacy to the function of Egyptian funerary portraits. I also improved my memory and stamina, and realized that re-reading texts, initially for comprehension, also yielded deeper insights, appreciation of nuance, and attention to detail. Reading “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder has become an annual post-finals ritual that consistently teaches me new lessons on community, love, and connection.
My coping strategies faltered, however, under the weight of my workload in a dual-curriuclum yeshiva high school, not to mention while learning to drive. (Yikes!) I began vision therapy to improve my peripheral vision, depth perception, and eye muscle control. By looking through lenses and prisms, I suddenly saw the world as others viewed it. How humbling to perceive depth and volume as never before, freshly viewing the movement of ocean waves and grass. Quite literally seeing the world with new eyes led me to re-examine my intellectual views as well, opening my mind to alternate perspectives so ideas that had to be set in stone now became fluid.
Around this time, I was introduced to the work of Carol Dweck on growth mindset, Sheryl Sandberg on resilience, and Angela Duckworth on grit, whose statement that ‘when you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them’ particularly resonated. Their theories on persistence struck a chord with me, validating my past efforts and renewing my determination to master my studies. In my first year following vision therapy, I not only achieved the school’s highest grade in AP Art History and aced the AP, but took special pride in curating a virtual museum exhibit on 18th-20th century ritual objects from Africa, Indigenous America, and the Pacific Islands as a window to women’s roles in non-European societies. This project not only satisfied my own intellectual drive, but allowed me to share my findings with others who may never have considered the relevance of this art to contemporary questions about motherhood, female power, and the balance between the roles of men and women.
This academic fire also sparked a new flame: the desire to transmit my passion for art, history, and culture to others. As an educator, I would be able to especially appreciate differences and encourage students by sharing my difficulties and ultimate success. Knowledge of history and art history enriches people’s lives by helping them understand and navigate the world around them, cultivating deep satisfaction and joy. Though my poor eyesight presents ongoing obstacles, I now envision a life using lessons learned in overcoming challenges to infuse the lives of others with beauty and meaning.”