This month’s column is written by my sister, Cindy Lockard, about our family’s real-life experiences with vision problems successfully treated through vision therapy. With thanks to Travis Blair, Becky Burns, and Gary Lockard for letting us share their stories.
Twelve years ago, my youngest sister, Dr. Julie Steinhauer, OD, FCOVD, opened her own vision care practice in Jerseyville, Illinois, now Vision for Life in Glen Carbon. I had no perception of what she was or what her goals were – a behavioral optometrist who specialized in vision therapy. I knew only that she had always wanted to help children after having been very sick as a child, in and out of hospitals and never having received a diagnosis. She had a passion to help other children who also struggled in life with no explanation of why.
In the simplest terms, vision therapy is an individualized treatment program that corrects vision problems not generally found in a basic eye exam or screening. Troubles with focusing, eye tracking, teaming and alignment are some of the most common issues she works with.
Because she had opened a new practice, and vision therapy was not commonly talked about or understood, she wanted to evaluate family members’ vision and put us through vision therapy if any issues were discovered.
My father, Gary Lockard, was one of the first “guinea pigs”. At age 60, he was able to read and truly enjoy a book for the first time in his life after vision therapy. He loved to read but had previously only read short newspaper and magazine articles. A whole new world was opened up to him.
My sister, Becky Burns, was next. She is a very smart, vibrant, positive person. Growing up, she was the typical middle child, getting into mischief and not quite living up to her potential in school, we thought. Imagine the remorse and guilt my mother felt when Becky was diagnosed to have multiple vision problems, including severe trouble focusing to read or do homework. We simply did not know that she could have been helped. After vision therapy, Becky graduated the university Summa Cum Laude and is now an associate English professor as well as published author. Becky, who grew up thinking she was not as smart as the rest of us, is probably the smartest of us all.
Julie then turned her attention to my son, Travis Blair, age 9. I was vehemently opposed. He had 20/20 vision, made straight A’s in school, and there was nothing wrong with him! We argued. “He is clumsy,” she said. I couldn’t deny that. He dropped things constantly and was always running into things. “Watch him read,” she implored me. “He has trouble focusing. He rubs his eyes because they get itchy and watery.” Well, I couldn’t watch him read, because he avoided it. There was no need, however, because he made straight A’s. It began to bother me, though, how he always got frustrated when I suggested he study for a test by reading. One day, I secretly watched him, and saw that she was right.
She also told me she could cure the motion sickness I had suffered with since childhood. Every family car ride was spent with me hanging my head out the backseat window. Our trip to the state capitol in Springfield was cut short when I vomited on the lawn, and we drove back home. Motion sickness relating to my eyes made no sense to me.
Finally, I got tired of Julie’s persistence and relented. Travis and I would both undergo evaluation and vision therapy if necessary. We were both diagnosed with different problems. It is unnecessary to explain the diagnoses in depth – they were common deficiencies that could be treated, she assured us. I committed to following it through, despite my misgivings.
Travis and I did vision therapy for months. Activities were fun and interesting. They were tailored to our ages and personalities. Travis focused heavily on the hand-eye coordination activities, which he enjoyed. We both completed vision therapy successfully.
I do not have motion sickness anymore. I have not had it in 12 years. Can I completely explain why? No. But I did all the exercises and activities that she prescribed for me, and I was cured, just as she promised.
What happened to Travis? He started reading books for enjoyment. He read so quickly, even 200 pages a day, that we could not keep him stocked with books. He became adept at putting jigsaw puzzles together – a gift for immediately seeing which of 1,000 pieces fit where. He continued to make straight A’s in school and never got a B his entire life, graduating college with a degree in 3 years. The clumsy little boy became known as one of the best athletes in school with exceptional hand-eye coordination. He was the point guard for basketball and an excellent 3-point shooter, he was extraordinary at hitting and fielding in baseball, and he went to state three times in tennis and holds the all-time wins record at our high school.
I dishonor Travis’ hard work and determination if I give all the credit to vision therapy. But would he have succeeded as well without it? Through tears, I can tell you I am thankful every day that I did not hold on to my stubbornness and lack of comprehension for what vision therapy was and could do for my son.
In this season of Thanksgiving and CHRISTmas, I urge all of you to give your children the best gift you can ever give them. Schedule a developmental vision evaluation with my sister, Dr. Julie Steinhauer, at Vision for Life. It does not matter if you think your child does not have vision problems. What matters is that he or she might, and you do not want to be the parent who refused treatment because something does not make sense to you. You don’t have to understand vision therapy to believe in it. This is the season of miracles. Maybe there is one waiting just around the bend for your child.