Oliver's Journey

The problems that beset Lisa Bochenek's six-year-old son were the stuff of every parent's nightmares.

When Oliver 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. Oli 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. Mrs Bochenek 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 Oli'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 Oliver 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 Oli ordinary glasses with lenses designed to correct the defects he found and the results were immediate and dramatic.

Geraint Griffiths with Oli

Mrs. Bochenek said: "The NHS eye specialists had told me Oli 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 Oli 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 Oliver 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.

For Oli, who is now ten-years-old (as at 2015), 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 recently scored a scorching 98 per cent in his 'statutory assessment test' in maths. He also applied to study at the prestigious Oakham School a year early and was quickly offered a place.

Oli Bochenek

Lisa Bochenek is a former British International athlete. She represented Great Britain in the 3000m in 1992 Barcelona Olympics and was under 23 GB team Captain.

Following the Olympics, Lisa developed her career in marketing. Her final position before Oliver arrived was with British Link as Regional Customer Services manager. She has now set up her own company Fantastic Dyspraxic, which sells things like ergonomic pens and spoons to help poorly coordinated children to eat and write. The recent success of this venture illustrates the hidden need in society for help for visually disadvantaged children.

Published by kind permission.