Brandon is a student in a group of thirty children in two large classrooms with two teachers and six aides and assistants. All these students are mobile, all but one have fluent English as their first or second languages. They are all in Special Education.
When I first met Brandon, he was a little wary of me, a stranger, asking him to do odd un-school-y things like skip, crawl, stand on one foot, and follow a pencil moving back and forth in front of his eyes. He had a respectful but quite skeptical smile, and his eyebrows were in constant motion commenting on these requests of mine.
“What’s that for?” he asked, smiling politely, when I brought out my paper eyeball – a one-inch circle printed with a cartoon-y eyeball pasted onto the end of a 4” by 1” piece of stiff paper as long as a pencil.
“I want to see how your eyes move,” I answered, gesturing to him to sit in a chair opposite mine.
“O . . . kay,” he replied, drawing out the syllables in a skeptical but polite voice. I could almost hear him thinking, “Whatever…..”
Holding the eyeball facing him, I moved it slowly from side to side. “Use both eyes,” I added as I moved it steadily about 6 inches from his face. Back and forth, five or six times, and his eyes were moving and not watering. His right eye was rock-steady, moving exactly as the paper eyeball moved across his face.
But his left eye was on its own track, moving in toward his nose in a random unpredictable way. Sometimes it started at the right place, moved a little in the right direction, then snapped back to the beginning point; sometimes this eye paused and jiggled somewhere randomly on the path the paper eyeball was making across his field of vision.
“How many eyeballs do you see?” I asked him, calmly, as I continued.
“You only have one in your hand,” he answered politely, raising one eyebrow to make the response less impolite.
“True,” I agreed. “But if your eyes are not working well together, you may see two.
I’m just askin’,” I added, trying for a little teenager talk.
He shrugged. “Sometimes I see two of what I am looking at. Then I blink hard and usually it changes to one whatever.” He smiled – he is an attractive young man, and the smile amplifies his attractiveness. “Sometimes I see two of you!”
“Well, that probably won’t be very useful,” I smiled back.
We did a few other exercises, a little crawling up the wall to practice cross-lateral movement (I call this exercise Spiderman). Then we sat still and I explained why we were doing all this, and asked if he knew how long he had been wearing glasses and what they were for.
“I got them when I came to this school, two years ago.”
“Do you know what they are supposed to be doing for you?” I asked.
“Help me see clearly,” was the prompt reply.
“And do they?” I asked.
Shrug. “Sometimes,” he said.
“Did you know that your left eye moves on its own, differently from your right eye?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“The doctor said that it would get better with the glasses.” I waited. Another shrug. “Hasn’t changed much yet.”
I told Brandon about the near-far exercise he could do with his paper eyeball, and he said he would try to use it, as requested, 14 times twice a day until my next visit.
And on my next visit I brought along an optometrist friend on his day off who quickly checked the four other kids who had, as did Brandon, one eye that moved differently. I had given these children the same near/far exercise, but unlike Brandon’s, their traveling eye had the same alternate track all the time. Brandon’s was the only one that had no pattern to its movement. On the way out of the school, my friend and I reviewed the kids.
“You are sure right about Brandon,” Dr. J told me. “That kid needs a completely different set of lenses to help his left eye correct that problem.”
“Don’t know how he will get that,” I commented sadly.
“No,” he agreed. “Maybe he’ll tell his parents he needs to see the eye doctor again, and maybe….”