A Child's Journey

The problems that beset this six-year-old boy were the stuff of every parent's nightmares.

When he felt his mother's hand on his arm, back, or leg, he could not tell which part of his body she was touching. Nor could he distinguish between feelings of hunger and needing to go to the toilet. His gait was stiff and movements jerky. His muscle tone was poor. He had no proper sense of balance. He appeared to become completely deaf when concentrating on doing simple things such as eating at the dinner table.

His vocabulary was not developing. Doing sums was too much for him. His reading was glacially slow. He was also full of fear, anxiety and agitation - when his classmates went exploring, he clung desperately to safe surroundings. Life itself seemed to scare the little boy.

Medical professionals diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyspraxia. They said he had auditory and sensory processing disorder. Things reached a crisis when he began involuntarily falling asleep in class. His mother was devastated at being told nothing could be done to help him.

Geraint Griffiths, Chairman of Association of Sport and Schoolvision Practitioners (ASvP), has led ground-breaking research into childrens' vision. He was convinced the boy's hearing, tactile, balance, attention, and learning difficulties all had one root cause - his eyes.

  "... I saw how keen he was to wear his glasses and I knew something had gone right."

He examined the boy using new diagnostic equipment designed to assess how his binocular vision performed. Mr Griffiths had already shown that commonly used standard eye tests cannot detect certain crucial defects in childrens' eyesight. Being able to track objects in three dimensions and judge distances is a vital skill in everything youngsters do, including reading. When the images a child's brain receives through its eyes do not perfectly overlap it creates double vision. The brain then expends colossal amounts of energy trying to make sense of the conflicting pictures it is receiving.

Yet more energy goes into the muscles as they fight to synchronise the eyes' focus and tracking. The brain will even seem to shut down the signal from one eye as it struggles to interpret the image from the other. Teachers often spot the symptoms of inattention, fatigue, poor behaviour and learning difficulties in students with vision defects but fail to understand what is causing them.

Mr Griffiths gave him ordinary glasses with lenses designed to correct the defects he found and the results were immediate and dramatic.

Geraint Griffiths

His mother said: "The NHS eye specialists had told me my child had 20/20 vision and didn't need glasses. But all their charts had proved was that he could fleetingly identify letters on a flat sheet at a fixed distance. They completely failed to show that when he tried to sustain an image he could not do it.

"He had also learned to outwit them. He could identify a 'W' by its five points, not the shape of the letter. He could not recognise people's faces. But he could identify them by the outlines of their hair".

She said that when Mr Griffiths gave him his new glasses his reading speed increased instantly. "He immediately became calmer and less fearful too," she added. "He was still not processing words properly. But I saw how keen he was to wear his glasses and I knew something had gone right".

Then he looked up at the sky in awe and told his mother in amazement that he could see the clouds were fat and round. To him they had always been flat, two-dimensional shapes. His words made his mother dissolve into tears. She said that resolving her son's vision problems proved to be the key to unlocking his other difficulties.

Within six months his hearing was fully functioning again. With his vision sorted out, his brain had spare energy to devote to other senses. Now he could tell from the warmth of his mother's hand when it was placed on his back, or arm. His walking and balance improved too - now he could judge how far his feet were from the ground. He could also judge for the first time how far to reach out to pick things up.

Things have just kept on getting better and better. A dream came true when he learned to ride a bike, a feat everyone once thought totally beyond him.

Before seeing Mr Griffiths, he was in the bottom set for maths in his year at school.

He has since scored a scorching 98 per cent in his 'statutory assessment test' in maths. He also applied to study at a prestigious school a year early and was quickly offered a place.

 

Published by kind permission. Anonymised.