My kindergarten son has been participating in vision therapy since August 2009. We started investigating his need for it because his Montessori teacher noticed him avoiding typical pre-reading and pre-writing activities. These concerns combined with an unusual head turning habit he developed while do “close” work gave us reason to believe that it would be worthwhile to give vision therapy a try.
Well it wasn’t too much longer and we started to hear that our son was suspected of having problems with sensory integration at which point my eyes and head were rolling with all the suggested daily, home therapies we could do along with all the literature we could read in order to remedy the situation. By November the young guy’s self esteem was showing signs of wear and as a family we chose to take a two- month break from vision therapy and cut back on the occupational therapy we had also started.
As a result of this personal experience along with experiences related to the school I am currently working in, I have been led toward an investigation of better understanding the impact of “advancements” of contemporary culture in the US and my perceptions of its effects on a child’s physical development.
According to Stanley Appelbaum O.D., FCOVD 20% of normal, healthy children have problems focusing their eyes simultaneously. Literature shared with us by our local eye doctor stated that 1 in 4 children would benefit from regular vision therapy. According to texts that I was given by our vision therapist, the typical child will naturally develop strong convergence (eye teaming) between six and eight years of age, however it may not be until age ten. Yikes! In a typical preschool setting, children as young as four may be asked/expected to participate in activities in preparation for reading and writing that require eye teaming to be “successful”. So here I started to wonder if I should be putting so much time, energy and money into vision therapy to speed up a naturally occurring process, and if I did would there be some long term consequences I would rather avoid.
This is where the sensory integration piece fits in. According to the Family Education website:
Sensory integration refers to how people use the information provided by all the sensations coming from within the body and from the external environment. We usually think of the senses as separate channels of information, but they actually work together to give us a reliable picture of the world and our place in it. Your senses integrate to form a complete understanding of who you are, where you are, and what is happening around you.
(A complete definition of sensory integration (SI) and its biological components is beyond the scope of this blog but Beth Sutton the author of Enki Education Curriculum has included thoughtful information about SI in her website.) I think it would be wise and appropriate for any parent who has been suggested that his/her child has SI issues to think about why this too appears to be a more commonly applied label. According to the Sprial Foundation, 5 – 13% of children entering school are found to have Sensory Processing Disorder (another term for SI), most of which are boys.
Again from the Family Education website:
For most kids, sensory integration skills develop naturally. As children learn about new sensations, they become more confident about their skills, refine their ability to respond to sensory experiences, and are thus able to accomplish more and more. An infant startles and cries when a fire engine whizzes past blaring a siren, but years later when that baby is a teenager, the same noise might cause him to simply cover his ears as he watches the fire engine go down the street. As an adult, this person may merely stop talking with a friend until the fire engine passes. As sensory processing skills mature, vital pathways in the nervous system get refined and strengthened, and children get better at handling life's challenges.
Beth Sutton does a beautiful job of pointing out how life has changed over the decades with the addition of modern day conveniences and since I am someone that believes I would have been more well suited for an earlier era, I believe we need to recognize that there was a time when more demands were made on our physical bodies in order to meet our daily needs: transportation was on foot or horse back, tools we may have used were manually operated, children participated in a great deal of the work necessary to maintain a household. Although this “heavy work” had its challenges there was a use of the body that help us know ourselves in a way many of us no longer do.
By contrast the current paradigm is we drive or use some form of physically passive transportation, we use electronic appliances that require a simply press of a button and children spend a great deal of time being passively entertained with computers of various sorts and this is all before the school day starts.
I question why so many children are being treated with a routine of sensory diets and therapies rather than an authentic lifestyle that engages their bodies in meaningful activity and what will be the long term impact on learning?