the bigger they are…
Like many of my generation, my parents believed that I should never start a fight but should I be on the receiving end of another’s frustration or aggression, self defense was a must – it was the old “never throw the first punch” idea. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, physicality became an unfortunate right of passage many times – win or lose. Since the environment of my youth often left me cautious, anxious and even a bit paranoid, I learned very quickly how to become a chameleon; blending in with the walls and shadows, hoping the stronger kids would simply walk by without noticing my presence. This mentality was a mixture of fear and survival instinct, because deep down I knew in most confrontations, I didn’t stand a chance of escaping with out bruises or bloodshed. With the recent exposure of bullying and it’s negative effects much of this mentality has changed, or at least subsided, but many kids unfortunately still deal with these choices. As an adult that now works with children, my antenna is always up for kids like me – kids whose environment demands that they become wallflowers to survive.
My newest patient had his VT orientation recently, a young 11 year old whose stature easily could be confused with that of a teenager – he’s a big, strong kid. As I do with most orientations, I began with a handshake and a smile, welcoming both he and his mom into our center. As we sat down to discuss goals, it was pretty obvious my new young friend had no intention of making eye contact with me, not now, maybe not ever. He complied with my every request and answered every question politely and courteously, the entire time his eyes were firmly locked on the floor, as if he was expecting it to suddenly move beneath him. Wallflower hint number one.
The late Marjie Thompson contributed so much to Developmental Optometry. Aside from her years in the Vision Therapy room, P.A.V.E.’s influence on the expansion of our message was incredible. Anyone in the business today should always remember Marjie, as we all owe a small part of our success to her drive and fortitude. I had the privilege of knowing Marjie during the last few years of her life and among the many tidbits of wisdom she shared, one of the the most valuable was about eye contact – it will tell you a lot about the patient – because a good therapist should be aware of it, get it, train it and keep it.
As my new patient stared at the floor, I would take quick glances at his mother trying to gauge a reaction to his answers. With every answer she would wipe away a tear or two. When it was her turn to speak and offer her goals for her son, she simply said she wants him to find happiness. He’s frustrated, angry, defeated, has no confidence in his abilities and would rather stay home than spend time with anyone his own age. Wallflower hint number two.
As the orientation progressed, I made a direct request for eye contact from my patient. Reluctantly, he complied. He went on to explain that his mom’s worse fears were true. He thinks he’s stupid. He has acted out, been suspended for fighting, been reprimanded for disrespecting the teacher, and has even been threatened with a transfer to a continuing education school for children who cannot survive in the mainstream. As he was explaining these things, he was becoming noticeably agitated and frustrated. Before his mom could defend his position – and she was ready to do so – I tried to steer the conversation back to vision.
“Do you ever see double?”
Sometimes when the picture doesn’t look the same from second to to second, or even minute to minute, our brains can become confused. We can look at the same word, the same picture or even the same person and our brains will process differently than they did just a few moments prior. Often times it’s because the picture doesn’t look the same as it did previously. It has nothing to with being stupid, or even with intelligence, it just means that our eyes have difficulty taking and maintaining the same picture for us to process. If you had to deal with this class to class, day to day, week to week, month to month, and school year to school year, it probably would be frustrating. And without any idea of what was going on, or even how to fix it, that frustration might turn into anger. It’s usually the smartest kids that become the most frustrated, because they know they’re smart, but they just cannot make it work. Does that sound like you?
Suddenly his eye contact was piercing.
“It’s so hard to explain but that sounds like me. I’m a big kid and everybody thinks I dumb. I can’t prove them wrong”. I didn’t ask who the “they” were that he was referring to, but I had a pretty good idea. Everyone that is important to him. Easier to give up or act out than to keep trying. Wallflower hint number three.
We spent the next few minutes just trying to validate his feelings, explaining that although I’ve never been in his shoes, I can understand how it might be frustrating or even lead to angry outbursts. If everyone thought I was stupid when I was trying my hardest, it would make me want to act out or give up too. Because we were short on time our orientation ended, completing very little of what I had hoped to accomplish. That was secondary though. This kid needed to know that I am on his side, and for now, mission accomplished. We can review the rules of the program another day.