For as long as he can remember, Samson has had vision problems. When he was young, he was always tripping over things, misjudging distances. He was given glasses at an early age, but even with them, he had trouble seeing.
He gave up reading for pleasure, and instead turned to video games, playing repetitive games whose patterns he could remember so he didn’t have to track with his eyes so much.
But Samson is a smart guy with a wide range of interests and a determination to get ahead. Despite his reading problems, he graduated from a rigorous private school and got a BA from the University of Minnesota. He loves theatre and dance, history and politics. He is fluent in a second language, Spanish, and having visited Spain twice, his long-term goal is to move there.
But none of these accomplishments came easily. He says his vision issues were an “invisible problem” that bedeviled his teachers and friends – everyone knew he was smart, but couldn’t understand why he had trouble keeping up with his work. He has loving, concerned parents who did everything they could think of to help him, encouraging him, taking him to specialists, including regular eye doctor visits. Optometrists would prescribe glasses, but his problems persisted. As Samson discovered when he came to A Chance To Grow’s Vision Clinic, the problem was, they were focusing only on his eyes, not on the eye/brain connection that was at the root of his problem.
When Samson’s mother saw the evidence, she cried. It was the first time in Samson’s 31 years that anyone could show her what was wrong.
With the information generated by the program, Dr. May was able to diagnose Samson with Oculomotor Dysfunction and Accommodative Excess, meaning his eyes have difficulty tracking, and he overcompensates to correct. She also found that his glasses prescription is anisometric,
meaning he has a large difference in the prescription for each eye. Those issues have made it very difficult for his two eyes to develop in a way that worked together. It also profoundly affects his depth perception.
This explains so much of what Samson has experienced. When eyes can’t work together, sustained attention for near tasks, like reading, are straining and exhausting. Ultimately vision is uncomfortable and demotivating, affecting vision-driven tasks. That’s basically everything: reading, driving, learning, even walking around and knowing where you are in space depend on those skills.
Dr. May prescribed eye exercises, which Samson has been doing regularly at home, as well as sessions on equipment in the office. The plan is based on very careful goal setting that emphasizes mastery of individual skills. When each skill is mastered, Dr. May and Samson will carefully put them together, giving Samson control of his system as a whole. After that, it’s just continued practice and maintenance. “The whole process is Samson’s work,” says Dr. May, “I’m just facilitating and giving him the best tools I have for him to regain control.”
Samson reports that he never realized his eyes were jumping so much. Since beginning his vision therapy, he says he can see things much better. He is hoping one day soon, he will be able to drive, and become more independent. He says, “Tell people it’s important to ask questions and look at things differently, find someone who will look for deeper issues. It wasn’t about the eye itself, it was about the eye/brain connection.”
Linda Nesenson has been part of A Chance To Grow’s family – and we’ve been part of hers – since 1994. Her journey mirrors ours, as this story demonstrates.
Linda’s second son, Matthew, born in 1988, began having issues with focus and hyperactivity as a toddler. By the time he was in kindergarten, the impact was obvious: “He was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on,” remembers Linda, “he would just laugh and laugh, he didn’t know what to do. He would go full force and conk out.” He was so disruptive to the class, he spent half the day in the hallway on a chair because they didn’t know what to do with him.
By the time he was six, his pediatrician had diagnosed him with ADHD and had put him on Ritalin. “It wasn’t doing anything, so they just wanted to keep upping and upping the dosage,” recalls Linda, “so he developed a tic, eye blinking, and I said, ‘no, we’re not doing this.’ The saving point came when I saw a flyer advertising the Boost Up Program.”
This was being offered by New Visions, ACTG’s alternative school designed specifically to help children like Matt who had trouble learning. As part of his enrollment process, Matt received a number of assessments he’d never had before. “His pediatrician never asked me, ‘did he crawl on his tummy, did he creep on his hands and knees?’ I had no idea that was important. I had taken him to the eye doctor to have his vision checked and they would tell me his eyes were healthy and that he had 20/20 vision, but at New Visions, where they did the telebinocular screening, I learned that he had depth perception problems and his pinch grasp was very weak, which explained playing catch and holding a crayon to color was of no interest.”
At the time, New Visions offered the occupational and vision therapy Matt needed in addition to the Boost Up program, so Linda enrolled him there in 1994. Like Matt, his cousin Ryan was also struggling and he was also enrolled in the school. Her cousin was a paraprofessional in the 1st grade, where Matthew and Ryan started. Linda soon started volunteering in the classrooms, and was ultimately hired as an educational assistant in 1998. Her sister, Ryan’s mother Teresa, came to work in the school office shortly after. When New Visions school came under the umbrella of ACTG and moved to the current location (later in 2003), her husband Gary came to work as a janitor, and so the family affair continued.
At the time, New Visions was housed at St. Bridget’s and offered Boost Up for children in grades 1-8. Students went to Boost Up five days a week as part of their daily schedule. There, Linda knew Boost Up was where she wanted to be. The success of the program with those students led the staff to consider ways to bring the program to more children. Hence the Minnesota Learning Resource Center, and the S.M.A.R.T. Program (Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training) came into being. Designed to easily incorporate the Boost Up approach into K-3 and Pre-K classrooms, the program has trained thousands of teachers in Minnesota and across the country, providing countless children with the brain development needed to succeed in school and beyond.
Matthew stayed with the program through the fifth grade. In addition to occupational and vision therapy, Matt and Ryan received brain training via Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE), which helps people self-regulate emotions. Both boys began to improve. “Matthew could handle the group situation, he wasn’t sitting in the hallway, he just got more engaged, more involved in what was going on, he could read, he was learning, he was calmer.” Linda recalls that Matt’s kindergarten teacher had predicted that he would never be able to read. After he had been at New Visions for a while, the paraprofessional took him back to that teacher’s room, and said “Matthew would like to
read something for you.” And he did.
Today, Matthew is grown up, steadily employed at a local store for the last seven years, and the father of four-year-old Xander. “If it wasn’t for my experience with New Visions, with A Chance to Grow, I would not have been able to recognize early that Xander had challenges. “First thing is the speech, he wasn’t saying words and he’s not playing like a neurotypical toddler.” He was diagnosed with Autism, low on the spectrum and sensory seeking. She told Xander’s mom that she should bring him to ACTG for an occupational therapy evaluation. Today, Xander is receiving speech and occupational therapy at A Chance to Grow.
While Matthew left New Visions for middle school, and has since gone on to lead a wonderful life, Linda remained at ACTG. It was her second career, after spending 25+ years in the telephone answering service, but, she says, “Boost-Up became my first love.” Over the years, her involvement has grown and changed, just as the agency has. Eventually, she also worked for the AVE program, Vision program, and as it expanded, the Clinical Services department as a clinical assistant. She has never formally retired because, as she says, this has become a family affair too. “The people here, they mesh so well together. I think it’s because the love and dedication they have in helping children be successful is a common goal. She says, because of that shared goal, “the staff is like family, too.”
A Chance To Grow provides a wide range of services designed to help people at all levels of ability reach their optimal growth. Our focus on brain function affords us the opportunity to offer many approaches that are designed to complement each other and improve quality of life. One family has been with ACTG since its beginnings, and their journey with us – beginning with Boost-Up, the program that is the basis for most of our programming, to clinical services, to PCA services. Their story provides insight into the impact of everything we do.
When ACTG began to explore the use of neurofeedback, a brain-training approach, Michelle was excited, and before long, she launched what became our Neurotechnology Program.
What is Neurotechnology?
What are Home-Based Services?
Michelle has made sure that her son and grandchildren participated in everything ACTG had to offer them. “Scott had auditory therapy, vision therapy and speech/language therapy here. Mike and Kyrie too, and also OT. And Summer Boost-Up.” She also made sure they got a lot of neurofeedback. “I think it built more brain pathways. All the things ACTG does is trying to encourage brain pathways, Neurofeedback was one way to try that.”
Scott, Michael and Kyrie will always have challenges, but the therapies received thanks to Clinical Services, Home-Based Services and Neurotechnology have had a substantial impact. Scott initially was very slow in speech, and while he still has trouble, his ability to pick up vocabulary increased. Michael, who was visually impaired at birth, has improved, thanks to the stimuli provided in vision therapy. Both Michael and Kyrie thrived in good school programs and continue to learn. ACTG helped all three build the foundation for continued growth. “You say ‘developmental delays’ but I say ‘delay.’ Because they are still making strides,” says Michelle.
Because of her experiences providing Boost-Up, Neurofeedback and PCA services for her family, Michelle does not think about them in terms of their limitations. “If you have a child with a disability, you have to use their strengths.” She notes, “It’s just a matter of standing back and giving them room to be who they are. Talk to them, give them the opportunity, that’s really important to them. Respect different ways of knowing, give them the opportunity to learn.”
When he was in school, “Scott was so curious about so many things that I could never get anybody to understand. He couldn’t read the stuff, he couldn’t take the test, but he learned. He learns by listening. He had all these difficulties with our traditional ways of getting information. For example, he can look at a number, he can’t tell you the name of that number, but if I were to put a 5 and a 3 on the paper, he couldn’t write the 8, but if I put 7,8,9 underneath, he could circle the 8, he knew the concept. It’s the same with letters. Now he is a fount of information, he learned to get himself around the Internet without being able to read and write. Now he’s reading better than he ever has.”
Like Scott, Mike and Kyrie keep on growing and learning, albeit in nontraditional ways. They love sports and have participated in Special Olympics, honing their skills with hours of practice. Kyrie, now 18, is still in a project-based school that allows him to explore his natural interests at his own pace, and where he can stay through transition. Mike, now 27, is interested in cooking. As with Scott, he knows a lot, but is less communicative than Kyrie. “His receptive information is much more than his expressive,” says Michelle.
Thanks to ACTG’s Clinical and Neurofeedback Services, all three have continued to make gains, and thanks to our PCA services, they have been able to do so with the love and support of those who know them best, exploring the world around them and enriching the lives of everyone around them.