A Sit Down – with Kelly Snedden
This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Kelly Snedden
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved with Developmental Optometry?
My husband Shannon and I were introduced to the field when our son, Cade, now 14, was diagnosed with a vision issue the summer before third grade. This resulted in several months of Vision Therapy.
At what stage did you first realize Cade was having difficulty?
Our son’s school teacher was the gem in this. At the end of second grade during our parent-teacher meeting, she explained to me her concern that something wasn’t right. The important thing to know is that Cade was getting good grades, he didn’t suffer from headaches and there were no behavioral issues.
The only “symptom” was really the teacher’s gut instinct. She explained that when visiting with him she knew he was a bright kid, but when it came to work, reading or math, it took a lot of effort for him to complete it. She said the only reason he was getting good grades was purely because of how hard he was working on the tasks before him. And, that’s when she asked if I’d ever heard of Vision Therapy. Following a brief, free screening, it was determined; he did have something going on with his eyes. So, that led us to do more extensive testing which revealed his eyes were moving 300x more than they should have been when tracking across a page.
Had you ever heard of Vision Therapy prior to those events?
Yes, I actually had heard about VT as the son of a friend of mine was participating in it and I had seen some of the tools they used at her home, i.e. balls on strings hanging from the ceiling. But, I was only generally familiar with it. I didn’t fully understand the impact it had on so many lives.
How did you first become involved with Vision Therapy?
My son’s teacher actually recommended our son be tested. And, that was an eye opener, because my husband and I had no idea he might have vision issues. And, come to find out – he did! It is for that reason that I am so keen on finding ways to educate teachers about the symptoms related to vision issues that are not 20/20 vision issues. Our teacher was a lifesaver! Had she not been so good at her job to know my son well enough to realize he was having to work too hard to complete his school work, I’m sure our elementary years would have been plagued with poor grades and then most likely, a bad attitude.
Can you describe Cade’s experiences in school prior to Vision Therapy?
This is a key point. Cade didn’t have any issues yet in school. But, down the road as the work and reading requirements were sure to accelerate, I’m sure that’s when the performance issues would have occurred. Because of a great teacher, we were able to get on the problem right at the beginning. However, having said that, Cade did hate to read pretty much right from the beginning. Getting him to read at home was always a battle and he was required the summer after Kindergarten to attend a summer reading program.
Which other solutions had you tried?
Luckily for us, Vision Therapy was the first recommendation and a recommendation that worked! However, through my connections with various facebook groups related to vision therapy since then I’ve been amazed at the multiple issues some children face. At the time of Cade’s testing, the Vision Therapy assistant said, “And, that’s his only issue! We get those eyes to work together and he’s going to soar!” I remember how excited she was but I didn’t really understand. I just remember thinking – “Great! Soaring is good!” I now have broader knowledge and a much greater appreciation. My husband and I have said to each other more than once how blessed we were, we just didn’t know it at the time.
Was Cade’s vision ever tested by his Pediatrician or screened by his school? If so, what was the outcome?
Cade’s vision had been tested with the typical eye tests during school which showed he had 20/20 vision. Therefore we had not taken him to an eye doctor. I don’t recall his pediatrician checking his vision, certainly not to the point that this issue would have been detected.
When you first met Dr. Kevin Cline, what was the evaluation like and what information were you given?
Dr. Kevin Cline and his staff at Wichita Vision Care scheduled extensive testing for him on two different days. Each day was maybe around an hour and a half to two hours long, to the point they told me I was welcome to leave and run errands. They ran him through a battery of visual tests, conducted complete eye exams, and studied the movement of his eyes very closely.
At one point, they took me to a back testing room and showed me the results of a test which involved a computer screen and goggles. While wearing the goggles, Cade had to read paragraphs of content at his grade level and then answer questions about what he had read. The goggles and screen helped to track his eye movement across the page as he did the work. Amazingly, his eyes were not in sync at all. They were both individually doing their own thing, moving around the page totally independent of each other. But, he got all of the answers correct but one.
That’s when the therapist explained that his eyes were individually gathering information and the brain was compensating for the confusion and piecing it all together. They gave me the print out of that test and other brochures about vision therapy. They also had several posters hanging in their lobby that illustrated what people with these vision issues may see on a page, like words going up and down, sliding off of a page or dropping a letter, etc. They pointed out other clues too – how he held his head when he did his work, even how he held his pencil. They also explained that some children may want to read or work with very little light.
Dr. Cline’s office also had a book in his lobby that captured success stories of his patients in their own words, as I read those I think that’s when I began to realize how life changing VT could be for certain vision issues. Then, to watch Cade go from hating to read to reading Harry Potter books, was proof enough.
The staff was wonderful and made it somewhat fun. If he did well, he got to go to the prize box. They were top-notch therapists, so encouraging of him, and they were great with dealing with the insurance companies too. They were true advocates for their patients and parents. Cade never complained about going to Dr. Cline’s office. Because our experience was so positive and the benefits so obvious, my husband and I became huge fans of Vision Therapy.
What is Cade’s current status in his VT program?
Cade graduated after approximately nine months of Vision Therapy. It was intensive. We met with the therapist twice a week and did exercises at home five times per week. There were nights it was a struggle but we got through it.
Were you surprised that Vision Therapy homework was being assigned?
No, not really and that’s because I knew my friend’s son had work to do at home.
Was doing Cade’s home activities ever an issue?
Yes, at times it was a challenge. He had to make his eyes do new things and he would be tired in the evenings and would get frustrated. I think that’s why he had to go a couple of months longer than expected. He started to let up a little toward the end and we weren’t making the progress as fast as we had been. It was a toll on us as parents too at times. We encouraged him with a small, weekend trip once he got through it. It was a trip we all needed and enjoyed.
At what stage in Cade’s program did you first start to notice progress?
It’s really hard for me to remember actually. But, it seems like it didn’t take too long before we were being told that he was getting moved to the next exercise maybe within just the first few weeks actually. I remember some exercises he only had to do for a short time and then they were moving him on to something else.
A lot is made of the incredible expense associate with Vision Therapy. Some argue that a few thousand dollars to improve a child’s life is a drop in the bucket, while others balk at the exorbitant fees. What’s your opinion? Was cost ever an issue for you?
My husband and I have the attitude – “how can you NOT do it, if it positions your child for a brighter future?” However, again we were blessed with having Aetna at the time and it covered the majority of our expenses. It was covered as a medical claim and not associated with another disability. Our insurance did change at the end of his treatment and we had to fight for coverage of his last few appointments. However, the insurance company did cover it.
I can’t believe what some families have to pay for this treatment and it’s wrong. Insurance companies need to cover it regardless of any other disabilities a child may suffer from. This is one thing I hope to see changed.
The efficacy of Vision Therapy is often questioned by parents and some professionals. Some have even stated that Vision Therapy is “quackery”. What’s your take on this?
We went into Vision Therapy totally unaware of the controversy. I guess it’s because a friend of mine was doing it and I was impressed with Dr.Cline and his staff.
Some years ago, I was visiting with a couple of my son’s teachers in either fifth or sixth grade (he’s a freshman now in high school!). We were probably evaluating his reading scores at the time which got my on my VT soapbox. As I shared with them information about VT, both teachers were very interested in learning more and asked me to talk to their principal and suggest a presentation at their next in-service. I did just that before I left the building and that’s when I saw the “other” mindset. His responses were surprising to me, not at all supportive of Vision Therapy, and suggestive that is was “quackery.” That was the moment I realized I had a lot to learn and quite frankly, so did he.
Your passion, mixed with Vision Therapy experiences, has taken you above and beyond. Can you tell us about that?
Witnessing the improvements in reading, and in the ability of Cade’s eyes to move and work together with the brain, was a blessing and amazing. I think the moment I saw the print out of how his two eyes did not work together was a huge moment for me. That was the proof for me that there was indeed an issue, besides listening to him try to read out loud.
My husband and I often spoke of what could have been had it not been detected. Students with these vision issues which go undetected, begin to believe they are dumb, that they can’t do the work and therefore are not as smart as others. It erodes their self-confidence and, I believe, can totally alter their life path.
I truly believe VT “saves futures” and every time a new child OR adult gets the help that VT can provide, then, in my mind, that’s another future preserved or perhaps even saved. Shannon and I both are pretty passionate about it. Perhaps, it’s my communications background that prompts me to try and spread the word. I can’t stand the fact that people of all ages are slipping through the cracks when something so non-invasive is there to help them.
As Dr. Cline taught me, Vision is more than 20/20. Society needs to realize this. These unrealized vision issues can be core to a child’s learning development and success. That alone will stand in the way of so many. For example, because of these untreated issues, the No Child Left Behind Act will never work in my opinion. It can’t. Society isn’t looking in all of the right directions when it comes to education and intellectual knowledge. Vision testing in our schools that go beyond 20/20 are needed and more people need to realize that Vision Therapy is a valid, tried and true treatment option.
A study by Joel N. Zaba, MA, OD and sponsored by the Essilor Vision Foundation was shared with me by Dr. Cline some years ago. The article published by Eyecare Business in October 2009, states that “In 2000, previously undetected vision problems were found in up to 74 percent of adjudicated adolescents.” I can’t help but wonder how many of our troubled teens could have had a different future with Vision Therapy?
As parents, our passions run deep. That’s why when Michele Chigas-Hillman and I began communicating on Facebook about Vision Therapy, it didn’t take long to spark that passion again so we launched the facebook page Vision Therapy Parents Unite. Anything we can do to improve awareness, share the benefits of VT and the need for insurance coverage, as well as grow the acceptance of Vision Therapy as a valid treatment option means doors for success are opened, and I can’t help but wonder perhaps a future saved?
Some closing thoughts – Special thanks to Kelly for taking the time to complete this interview. Please join me in wishing Kelly, her son Cade and the rest of their family the very best in their future.