At her annual ophthalmological checkup today, the eye doctor confirmed what I had suspected, that Zoe has convergence insufficiency. Actually I didn’t know that particular phenomenon was the problem, but I knew something was wrong. Zoe loves books and reads at a high level, but in recent months I had noticed her gravitating back to picture books instead of reading chapter books when given the opportunity. And I had observed that after the 20 minutes of required homework reading Zoe would often claim she was exhausted or had a headache. I knew something wasn’t right.
So I made a two-hour appointment (not covered by insurance and not cheap) with a developmental optometrist after hearing about a girl who sounded a lot like Zoe who was a capable but reluctant reader because of a previously undiagnosed vision problem. Then I filled out an extensive inventory of Zoe’s health and academic history and asked her teacher to complete another form.
Meanwhile Zoe became obsessed with a series of books called Warriors, about tribes of cats who fight each other (I don’t get it at all, but that’s another story). She devoured the first book and I thought maybe her reading reluctance was a passing phase. Her teacher filled out the form and said she didn’t notice anything amiss about Zoe’s work in class or behavior while reading. So I cancelled the appointment. And I figured that since we had her checkup scheduled for today, if there was anything wrong, the doctor would find it.
And she did. Apparently this problem is quite common and just as treatable. Surprisingly, the convergence insufficiency is hereditary, but Zoe didn’t get it from Randy, who has a history of strabismus, but from me. The doctor said many people are walking around with it but have never had any symptoms or problems. She did a quick check and said I definitely have it and could not blame Randy this time.
The cure for Zoe’s convergence insufficiency is eye exercises, which she can do with the help of a computer program, and reading glasses. I was thrilled to hear this seemingly simple remedy. Zoe was not. Our conversation on the way out of the doctor’s office went like this.
Zoe: “I am not happy about this. I do not want glasses. I never thought I would have to get glasses. I’ll look different.”
Me: “I’m sorry you’re not happy. You will look great with glasses. We’ll pick out some really cool ones. And I’m surprised you never thought you would have to get glasses because I’ve had glasses since I was in fourth grade and Daddy used to have to wear glasses so it was pretty inevitable that you would end up with glasses at some point. Besides, glasses are cool. Remember in Heidi Heckelbeck where Heidi’s friend got glasses and she was jealous because her friend looked so great, and she pretended to have bad vision so she could get her own glasses?”
Zoe: “I’m not the same as Heidi Heckelbeck. First of all, I’m not a witch.” [Heidi Heckelbeck is a witch, of the friendly Harry Potter and Hermione Granger variety]
Me: “That is true, you are not a witch.”
Zoe: “I do not want glasses.”
We went to the drugstore because the eye doctor had advised us to get a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses to see if they helped Zoe before investing in a pair of custom prescription glasses.
As soon as we found the glasses rack in the drugstore, Zoe was excited, drawn toward the animal print cases and sparkly frames. I found a pair with the right magnification and handed them to her to try on.
Zoe: “Wow! I can see so much better!” She tried on at least a dozen pairs and we took pictures. She got even more excited when she saw another rack of options that also included a shelf of colorful cases, which were free with a purchase of reading glasses. She started picking out a case to match the pairs of glasses she was considering. I told her to find the right glasses first and then we could find a case.
Finally she settled on red frames with blue earpieces and some shiny blue dots on the front. They are too big for her face because they’re adult glasses, but they’re ok for a trial run. And she loves them. On the way out of the drugstore.
Zoe: “I love my glasses. They are so cool. I can’t wait to show everyone. My friends will be so surprised. Zeke won’t know what to think. I can’t wait to show Daddy. When we get the real glasses can I get a hard case? Can I buy a cloth to polish them with? Can I wear them in the car? These glasses are so cool.”
At home I asked Zoe to read a few pages of her Star Wars novel without the glasses and with them and tell me what was different. “The words were so big and so easy to read,” she said. Well there you go. We’ll see what happens this week, and when we get the eye exercise program. But convergence sufficiency seems promising. And this is a good reminder that as a parent you should always trust your gut. Even an articulate seven-year-old can’t tell you that her eye muscles aren’t working together and that reading makes her eyes tired. I can’t wait to see what opens up for her when all those interesting words become bigger and easier to read.