A Sit Down – with Jillian Benoit
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 Jillian Benoit
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved with Developmental Optometry?
I am a very happy and lucky vision therapy graduate. I am 14 years old, but went through vision starting when I was 9. My mom, Robin, shared my experience in the book, Jillian’s Story. After that book came out, I had the chance to speak to several groups around the world, including optometry colleges. My first public speaking opportunity was at the COVD Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in 2011 when I was 12 years old. It was so much fun and really special to me because I wanted to say thank you to the optometrists and vision therapists that help kids like me every day. I think it is important to stand up for vision therapy because there are naysayers out there who claim it doesn’t work. Thanks to all the emails that started coming in from others who said vision therapy worked for them too, my mom and I decided to write a second book. We wanted to explain more about how vision therapy changes lives by sharing some of the success stories we received. I had the chance to be much more involved in writing the second book because I am older now. I continue to speak to groups as often as I can. My two most unique speaking engagements have been to vision therapy conferences via Skype in The Philippines and Mexico. The presentation in The Philippines took place at midnight, my time, since it was 1pm there — gotta love time differences! The presentation to optometrists in Mexico was really cool. I don’t speak Spanish and had to have a translator. It was super fun and it worked out great!
Can you tell us about your academic life prior to Vision Therapy?
I was happily in private school Kindergarten, wearing a patch on my left eye (under the care of my ophthalmologist) when the principal of the school told my parents I couldn’t advance to 1st grade because of the eye patch. My parents decided to take me and my big sister out of school and my mom home schooled us for three years. After I quit wearing a patch when I was 9 years old, I asked to go back to school. My parents enrolled me in our neighborhood school for 4th grade. That was the year that everything changed. I loved lots of things about school, but academically I was failing miserably. I was so discouraged. I felt stupid. I thought I had no talents. My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Clark, was amazing. She questioned why I could answer questions verbally and then miss the same question on a written test. I used to have bad headaches and feel nauseated at school. I often tried to hide in the restroom for as long as I could to avoid school work. PE class was a horror with balls flying around me and often hitting me in the face. Music class was frustrating because it seemed easy to everyone, but me. My grades were in the C to F range when I hit my lowest point.
Tell me about yourself the day you started in Vision Therapy?
I was 9 years old and in 4th grade when I went to vision therapy for the first time. As I stated above, my confidence was non-existent. I didn’t comprehend much of anything I tried to read to myself. If someone else read out loud, then I understood and remembered almost everything. We were learning long division in math and it was so confusing for me. I was totally miserable and I wanted to go to vision therapy. I really wanted it to work. I remember the first day of vision therapy. It was two days before Thanksgiving and my vision therapist, Lindsey, was so sweet. She sent me home with finger puppets, a slant board and a ball on a string.
How often did you see Dr. Horning and how long were your sessions?
I saw Dr. Horning for the first evaluation and then went to work with Lindsey, once a week in her office for an hour. I saw Dr. Horning almost every week in the hall to say hello, but only sat in his chair for a checkup every few weeks.
Often times parents and children alike are surprised that there are home activities assigned during their Vision Therapy program. Do you recall your thoughts on this? Was completing your home activities ever a challenge?
If I had known then what kind of homework load I’d have in high school, I would never have complained about 20 or 30 minutes of home exercises. But, I did. I complained about it sometimes. It wasn’t that it was horrible because some of the exercises were fun. It was usually just the issue of not wanting to quit whatever else I was doing to do VT homework instead. I don’t think the exercises were too challenging, although I had to work at some of them fairly hard. I liked checking off the exercise sheet each night, knowing that Lindsey would be proud of me and that every few weeks, if I did my homework, I would get to go to Lindsey’s treasure chest to pick a prize.
Upon graduating Vision Therapy what changes did you notice in yourself?
My grades went up to A’s and B’s. Major change! I wasn’t working as long or as hard to earn those grades as I did before when I was failing. I earned straight A’s for the first time in 5th grade after I graduated from vision therapy. I felt like I was on par and sometimes ahead of my classmates academically. I gained confidence that I really didn’t have before. I was proud of myself and discovered that I do have talents. I could catch a ball, sink a basket, ride a bike, play a musical instrument and do long division. I discovered that I loved to read and bought Harry Potter with my vision therapy graduation gift, a gift card to Books-a-Million from Dr. Horning and Lindsey. I started thinking positively. I didn’t feel worried or nervous. I just felt happy and comfortable being me.
Have you experienced any academic challenges since completing Vision Therapy?
Not really. I am an honor roll student. I have made straight A’s several times. The only challenge I have noticed was with my first year of marching band. Playing music, marching in all directions, thinking ahead to the next move, visualizing everything in my mind – it was really challenging. But, with a little extra practice, I did it.
When I interviewed your mom, she expressed her strong desire to share your story with the world, which gave life to her first book, Jillian’s Story. The book is wonderful, and a must read for all parents of children that struggling in school. What do you hope people take away from reading Jillian’s Story?
I hope anyone reading Jillian’s Story will feel inspired and motivated to keep searching for answers to whatever problems they are facing. Jillian’s Story is as much about a mom who would not give up on her kid as it is about that kid overcoming huge obstacles in her life. I hope that it helps teachers and schools to understand the link between vision and learning, that it gives other kids with vision problems someone to relate to, someone who understands their struggles and, most of all, that vision therapy will become more widely known and accepted.
We’ve also heard that you were very persuasive in convincing her that writing Jillian’s Story was a good idea. Can you tell us about that?
It is so hard to be a little kid with struggles. Vision therapy erased those struggles and I wasn’t too young at the age of 10 to get that. I saw fellow students at my school (and still do) who showed signs of undiagnosed vision problems. Toward the end of fourth grade my friend, Kinsey, was trying to read with her head tilted to the side and her hand over one eye. She had undiagnosed amblyopia and vision therapy helped her too. I remember standing in the halls at Dr. Horning’s office and reading the success stories on the wall. It was obvious to me, even as a little girl, that people were sad before vision therapy and happy after vision therapy. I told my mom that she should write my story and that we should do whatever we could to help people. And, she did!
Your new book, Dear Jillian, shares a unique perspective. Can you tell us about it?
Dear Jillian is not about me at all. It is about 22 amazing people who shared their vision therapy success with me and my mom. I love the people in this book. They are kids and adults who had a variety of different reasons for seeking the help of vision therapy. My mom and I took turns writing about their experiences. In most chapters, I get to write about their lives after vision therapy, which is the happy ending part. I am really proud of it. I think it serves as another step in spreading the message about vision therapy, but goes even further by sharing examples of how vision therapy played a part in helping people with traumatic brain injury, autism, strokes, illnesses and vision problems like amblyopia, strabismus and convergence insufficiency.
As a successful patient who clearly has made magnificent academic strides since completing Vision Therapy, what are your feelings about those who claim Vision Therapy doesn’t work?
It makes me really sad for anyone needing vision therapy to not pursue it because of those claims. I hear it all the time! I have also received emails from several people who ditched vision therapy as an option in the past, but are going to try it now. I think a kid that misses out on vision therapy in elementary school will continue to spiral down through middle school and high school. School work just gets too hard. Sometimes parents come back to vision therapy when their kids are older and sometimes these same kids pursue it as adults on their own in their 20s and 30s. I think people making false claims are starting to look uniformed and foolish. There are too many success stories out there and too many people willing to stand up in favor of vision therapy for the naysayer’s claims to be considered the truth.
You are such a fantastic success story! Both you and your mom deserve such praise for working to spread your wonderful message to those investigating the benefits of Vision Therapy! For anyone looking to purchase copies of your books, where can they be found?
Thank you, Robert! Both books are available on our website, www.jilliansstory.com. Jillian’s Story is currently sold out and on back order. Dear Jillian is available and there is a holiday sale with discounts through December 31st. The Optometric Extension Program Foundation also offers our books and Bernell Corporation is adding Dear Jillian to its catalog. Jillian’s Story is also available for e-books. This was fun. Thanks again!
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Jillian for taking the time out her busy school schedule for this interview. Jillian is truly a great Vision Therapy success story and, along with her mom, has become a great advocate for the great benefits Vision Therapy has to offer. Please join me in wishing Jillian, her mom Robin, and their entire family the absolute best 🙂
A Special Note – This will be the last interview posted in 2013. I plan to continue Sit Downs in January, once the holidays are behind us 🙂