there is nothing wrong with me…
Back in February, I wrote this post entitled “I don’t want to, and you can’t make me”. The post chronicles my early dealings with Nick, a patient of mine, who had a most defiant attitude the first few times we met. We worked through his struggles and defiance and actually developed a loving and almost “big brother/little brother” rapport during our subsequent sessions. Although I was sad to say goodbye to Nick when he moved away last month, I am happy to report his Vision Therapy has continued in an office near his new home, and his mom sends me updates via email on Nick’s continued progress. He surely is guaranteed to be a Vision Therapy success story.
Along those lines, my newest patient is an 8 year old boy who will be finishing third grade this week. During his orientation and our customary discussion of a patient’s goals, he boldly and vehemently stated “there is nothing wrong with me!”, in response to my inquiry of areas of his life he hopes Vision Therapy can improve. His mother quickly tried to calm, and even coddle him, and reminded him of his behavior. My attempt to rephrase the question only enraged him further and again he yelled “there is nothing wrong with me!”. Again, his mother jumped in. “Why do I have to behave myself? This is stupid! None of my friends come here and they are doing fine. Why do I have to come here?” Quickly recognizing my plan of attack was going to nowhere, and fast, it was time to change gears before this became an irreversible downward spiral.
I once heard Dr. Carl Hillier speak about validation, and how the angry and frustrated kids may be sorely lacking in this area, with respect to their struggles. Dr. Hillier also suggested that if a patient does not fully understand what Vision Therapy is about and what is expected of them, an adverse reaction is not only possible, but probable. The antidote, Dr. Hillier explained, is to acknowledge their anger and frustration no matter the root, without passion or prejudice, and to reassure them that their being in Vision Therapy was not in any way an indication of sub-par intelligence; rather, it’s an opportunity to enhance their ability to utilize their superior intelligence.
With order restored, I closed the chart in front of me, looked at my patient, and suggested we just talk for a few minutes. My wording and intonation also subtly suggested to mom that I wanted to focus only on her son, and was requesting she stay quiet. Prior to my patient’s outbursts, mom had stated that she and dad were concerned about the frustration level of their son. Her explanation was “he hates everything” – perhaps an unintentional inflammatory comment, but a true reflection of her own frustration nonetheless – and things disintegrated from there. With Dr. Hillier’s comments resonating in my head, I deliberately turned my chair towards my patient, trying to indicate with my body language that he was center stage. In the kindest voice I could, I told him that I noticed he seems very angry this afternoon and that it made sense to me. If I had to come to a doctor’s office at 4pm on the second-to-last day of school I would be angry too. In fact, it would frustrate me “if my mom made me come here” after I worked hard at school all day, especially since school is already really hard work. I went on to explain to him that coming to Vision Therapy doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you; it means there is a lot right with you. You probably get frustrated because you’re a smart kid and you know school should be fun, but there are just a few pieces that need to work faster. It’s a bit like racing the fastest race car in the world (this is Texas – ALL the boys love NASCAR) and only being able to move in first gear! You’d get there, slowly and painfully as everyone passes you up, all the while knowing you should be moving as fast as they are. How frustrating would that be?
My only regret at this point is I didn’t have a camera to capture the look on his face!
Before I could get another word out, my patient started a laundry list: “Yeah!! Math is frustrating because…, spelling is frustrating because…, reading is frustrating because…, homework is frustrating because…, and I hate school because none of my subjects are easy.”
“Wow”, I responded. “You’re way smarter than I thought! You’ve already figured out that all those things are not supposed to be this hard? Well here, let me show you something that will make school easier!”.
Home Therapy assigned, crisis averted.
You were right, Dr. Hillier. A little validation goes a long way.