deficit or discipline…
Parenthood has taught me many lessons, and I am not too proud to admit that some of them have been neither easy nor obvious. If you recall the old cartoons where the Roadrunner clunks the Wile E. Coyote on the head several times with a ball peen hammer before the coyote realizes there is a problem, well let’s just say I can relate. The lessons behind my metaphorical lumps have created an aversion to offering unsolicited parenting advice to others, mostly because with maturity I’ve realized that when it comes to your own children, some lessons are best learned first hand. Although they do drive me nuts occasionally, my own children are great kids despite my parenting challenges – a true testament to the nature versus nurture argument. There is one lesson parenting has taught though that seems to hold true for most kids and which I often will share in my VT room. It’s an idea that all of us who have kids or work with kids could benefit from reviewing occasionally: Even the great kids misbehave.
It seems lately that I’ve been bitten by a bug – the VT miscreant – as many of my patients lately are checking their manners at the door. “I don’t want to be here”, “I don’t like you”, “this is stupid”, “there is nothing wrong with me”, and my personal favorite “I don’t need my eyes to read”. As an aside, next time a patient tells you they don’t need their eyes to read calmly pull out a book, open it to the first page, put eye patches over both their eyes (essentially blindfolding them) and then ask them to begin reading. Beyond making a point on the importance of vision, the expressions garnered are priceless if you can play it straight.
Julio started his VT program today, and as is custom for all new patients, was offered an orientation by my counterpart. Through our adjacent wall, I could hear Julio quickly become upset and engage his father in a yelling match. Without leaving my chair I understood Julio’s point, he didn’t want to be here. Julio is a great kid whom I tested about 6 weeks ago. He comes from a solid family and a loving home. His parents work hard to raise Julio and his siblings, and clearly they want nothing less than the best for their children. Julio is a great kid. Today though, Julio was having none of it. It took two therapists, our doctor and his dad to get him calm (funny how quickly yelling in a VT office attracts a crowd) and he was then insistent upon doing anything he could to irritate, disrupt, or annoy any adult in his vicinity with his antics. What is usually a calm, pleasant and welcoming first VT visit, had quickly evolved into a war of wills. His behavior was disrespectful and rude, and his father was essentially ineffective in redirecting.
It is not often that I feel it necessary to take a strong, even aggressive approach, in the therapy room. It is not my nature to behave this way, and since we rely so heavily on rapport the risks are plentiful, especially on the first visit. With Julio, however, a message needed to be conveyed that his behavior was not acceptable, deficits or not. With a firmness in my voice, and the sternest of looks, Julio quickly realized that the game was over, and it was time to behave. In short order, the tantrum ended and he returned to his delightful self – back to being a great kid. I explained to Julio afterwards that he is always welcome to share his feelings and express concerns, and we love having him as our patient, but respect is always paramount – just like at home.
Misbehavior is part of childhood. I did it, you did it, and our kids do it too. The event with Julio got me thinking about a larger issue facing us in the VT Room, and beyond into society. Where do we draw the line between the kids who seem to act out due to perceptual deficits and the kids who act out because they are lacking discipline? I am in no way educated in or qualified to offer a professional solution, but as someone who has worked with kids for almost half my life, and parented my own the last 11 years, I can offer this idea on the topic: The water is muddy, and the deeper you wade, the muddier it gets. Western medicine would like you to believe that medication is the answer, some would like you to believe the lack of school recess is to blame, while others still think a resurgence of corporal punishment would solve the issue. Unfortunately, it seems there is no perfect solution.
In many ways being a solid Vision Therapist is balancing act. Balancing accommodation with vergence, fun with serious work, silliness with productivity, past failures with future successes, and good behavior with troubling deficits. We should always remember though that sometimes even the great kids misbehave, and there is no harm in providing a verbal nudge to help them back on track. After all, they’re only kids, and testing boundaries is what they do.