Sometimes children with hearing loss also have visual acuity problems, which need correcting as soon as possible to maximize their ability to interact and engage with their predominantly visual world. I’ve never thought that any of my girls have eye problems, but then again, I missed that they had hearing loss, so thought that it would be prudent to get their eyesight screened. I needed to be in the right frame of mind before following through with this plan, as the thought of juggling 6 hearing aids and 3 sets of spectacles totally boggled my mind. So, once all 3 girls were fitted with their hearing aids, and once Eden’s first two “teething” weeks were over, I decided to look for a paediatric optometrist. I’d been a bit concerned of whether we’d actually be able to get them tested at all. The twins are painfully shy with strangers. Tahlita usually buries herself into my chest, whilst Hadassah just becomes nasty as a means of defense. This protective mechanism is very effective, as a super grumpy face, violent head shaking and an assertive “No!” usually results in the most child-loving person retracting instantly. These two’s reaction to strangers usually leaves me a bit red faced and trying to explain that this behavior shouldn’t be taken personally. Eden usually saves the day and eases everyone’s’ embarrassment, as a result of the blatant rejection, with a friendly face made up of a wrinkled up little nose and sweet grin. If the environment feels threatening in any way, however, she becomes as unfriendly as her sisters. So, how on earth were the eye tests going to work, knowing that cooperating with a stranger was a “no go zone”? This concerned me, as I wanted to get the screening done once and for all, but also didn’t want to waste my money in a futile attempt.
When booking my appointment with the optometrist, I explained to the secretary that the girls were really shy and that I didn’t envisage that this was going to be easy. She reassured me that the optometrist was very good with kids and that they’d love him. “You haven’t met my girls,” I thought. She booked me a two-and-a-half hour appointment just as a buffer for some intermittent chaos and “thawing” time.
Well, the girls knew that something was up as soon as I parked the car. Hadassah already started shaking her head. With a big (fake) smile and a “Let’s go and have some fun” suggestion, I managed to coax the 3 of them into the waiting room. The twins were not amused, and Eden kept me busy as she kept trying to play with, and try on, all the different glasses’ frames that were on display. Going alone with the 3 of them was probably not the brightest plan.
And of course, as soon as the optometrist appeared and welcomed us into his examining room, I suddenly had 3 lead weights attached to my legs. We were not happy campers! The poor man, could hardly take a history for the noise of Tahlita’s crying and Hadassah’s nervous whine. They wouldn’t allow him near them. Realizing that we weren’t going to win like this, I had to get creative. Time to practice being flexible! Time to be brave, and yes, even a little forward. I gently asked the optometrist (and his secretary who was hoping that another “motherly” presence would warm things up) if they would mind showing me how to work the projector machine and possibly then leave the room. Surprisingly, they were very obliging, but I guess the noise levels had reached epic proportions and it would be understandable for anyone to want to escape that.
Once trained in my new “skill,” I needed to figure out how to make things work effectively. I sat the twins at the appropriate distance from the wall where the pictures were going to be projected. We’re all familiar with eye tests for adults; alphabetical letters are projected at a distance, and one tries to identify them sequentially as their size becomes smaller and smaller. The procedure with children is similar, except instead of the alphabet, there were pictures of objects that should be familiar to a small child. A butterfly, a boat, a cat, a fish, a ball, a house, were a few examples. Having become a family that uses a total communication approach, I had a few tools to work with, one of course, being sign language. Thankfully, by that time, I knew the signs for all the pictures that I’d need to project. I explained to the girls that we were going to take turns looking at the wall and that they needed to tell me what they saw. Game on!! In an instant there was no anxiety, but rather a sense of excitement to get things right. A fun game with mom! Dassie would shout out “CA” (for cat) and Tahlita would enthusiastically sign cat. I’d point out the next picture, an instant “BOE” (boat) from Hadassah, accompanied with her signing “boat”, whilst Tahlita just signed “boat”. We continued the process, hands were flying, voices were shouting and there was a lot of laughing! Eden was so excited by the whole experience and also identified enough for her eyesight to be adequately assessed. I’m not sure what the two staff outside were thinking, as although no more tears, there was still a lot of commotion coming from inside our room. “High 5’s” all round, as we successfully completed even the tiniest pictures. Relaxed and now enjoying themselves, the girls miraculously were then happy to sit on my lap whilst the optometrist was able to examine their eyes with his ophthalmoscope.
Fifteen minutes and 6 normal eyes later, we left the optometrist’s rooms feeling quite a sense of satisfaction. Again, comfort zone breeched, flexibility embraced, and you know what…it was quite fun! I was also really grateful and impressed at the optometrist’s willingness to accommodate me. Being “forward” in a situation like this, is not really something that I find easy to do, but with other experiences in the future, asking for that little extra help, will become easier and serve as a vital scaffold for building an ability to advocate for my girls in bigger challenges that we may face.