the greatest compliment…
If there is one thing that working with people in a therapeutic setting has taught me, it’s that attitude is everything. Not the patient’s attitude – mine. I’ve written in the past how much difference can be made in the patient’s outcome simply by adjusting my thought process towards the positive before beginning a VT session, and the idea continues to prove itself true again and again. Call me crazy, but there is something about maintaining a positive atmosphere that seems to grant permission for the less confident patients to take a risk or make mistakes, and learn from them. Our attitude is the one variable in the Vision Therapy room that we have the most control over, and it’s influence on the patient’s outcome should never be under estimated. Look at it this way, even the greatest Vision Therapist in the world when saddled with a bad attitude will do bad therapy, let’s just face the facts. For anyone who has never met me, I tend to be pretty light-hearted and comical (OK – cynical, really) about most issues, an attribute that has both served me well and been detrimental at times. But I have learned how to harness this skill, and really use it to my advantage for the benefit of my patients. One of my main goals during their VT program is to make them smile and laugh, not because I’m encouraging misbehavior, quite the contrary. It’s important because this stuff is hard and changes are tough, but it still can be fun. It needs to be fun.
It always concerns me when conducting an orientation with a new patient and they don’t giggle, or laugh, or smile, or even give off a positive vibe. Big red flag for me. The “why” of their sternness or lack of affect is for another post, it’s the how that I focus on primarily – as in how to break it. Some kids are just serious, completely understandable, but a good poke at their absent sibling always garners a smile. I also make fun of myself all the time. Many times the child who doesn’t laugh has one of several reasons for acting that way – few of them are positive. Those reasons revolve around academic failure and ridicule, resulting in increased stress and poor self confidence.
How many kids do you know that are failing in school, yet happy and silly in every other aspect of their lives? Probably very few. How many kids are excited about their extra-curricular activities when they’re failing in school? Again, very few. Either because the added activities are taking up what they believe to be valuable study time, or more likely, all extra curriculars have been postponed until the academics recover. If all of your failures were front and center day after day, and all outlets were either removed or getting in the way of success, you’d probably stop smiling too. When faced with one of these kids, the initial marker of most interest to me is their smile and their laughter. I know, I know – ranges, accommodation, central-peripheral integration, saccadic abilities and visual perception are all important – but in the process of strengthening those areas, have they found enough confidence in themselves to smile while doing it? Because in the final analysis, you can spend all year helping improve visual mechanics, but if your patient doesn’t believe in their newly trained skills, what have you really done?
This morning, one of my favorite little ladies came in for her Vision Therapy session. When we first met, she was easily on of the most cautious, stressed out, serious, and non-confident 8 year kids I had every encountered. She didn’t make eye contact, she didn’t smile, she didn’t laugh and she would barely utter a response greater than one word. Her life was tough. Over eight months of treatment, Vision Therapy has changed all of that and she has really begun to soar. Since she’ll be graduating soon, her mom was invited into the session to review initial goals and discuss successes. When asked about the headaches she initially reported, she responded with:
“I don’t get headaches anymore, now I just give them”.
We both smiled and enjoyed her levity. As with most patients, my greatest compliment has been watching this young lady’s confidence, humor and self awareness grow and the reemergence of her personality has been incredible. These all important attributes will probably never be measured by a 21 point exam, and truly, they don’t need to be. They’re already measured where it counts the most – in the heart of the patient.