In this interview, we touch on several of aspects of Patrick's life including how his parents raised him to look past his eye condition and embrace the world for everything it has to offer. We discuss wearing assistive devices in public and the anxiety that can go along with it. We also explore ways that teachers and parents can help minimize a low vision student's fears in the classroom. Hopefully, by talking about these issues, we can help someone else that is experiencing similar feelings or situations.
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Patrick Raymond - Optic Nerve Hypoplasia
1. Where are you located and who is your low vision specialist?
I live just outside of New Haven, CT. My low vision specialist is Dr. Christopher Inclima
2. Did your low vision doctor recommend Ocutech bioptics or did you learn about them from another source (media, friend, etc)?
I learned about bioptic lenses through my mom. After googling magnification glasses, she came across Ocutech and immediately sent me a link to Ocutech’s website. I emailed my case worker (provided to me by the state of CT) and inquired about these glasses. At my next low vision appointment, the doctor submitted a recommendation to the state for Ocutech bioptics.
3. You had diminished acuity from birth, but was not truly aware how different your vision was from others until age 9? Do you have any advice for young kids experiencing vision loss for the first time or just realizing it like yourself?
My first piece of advice would be for the parent/parents to nurture the idea of uniqueness. Often, there is a negative connotation felt by kids and teens with wearing glasses or bioptics, using assistive technology, sitting close to the tv/blackboard, etc. Vision loss should be seen as a unique trait and not as a "loss." I would highly encourage parents to be vigilant with their child’s moods, emotions, and to communicate frequently about their daily lives.
Keep your child active. Understand where physical obstacles exist. Keep your child safe, steer him/her around, but at the same time, just let your kid be a kid! A visually impaired child should experience as much as they can-- like any other normal sighted child. (As long as they are safe, being active and experiencing as much as possible is key.)
Next, research your State’s services for the blind. Each state is different and it is important to discover criteria for eligibility; and then, take advantage of these services for your child while he/she is still in school.
Advice for a visually impaired child: run, walk, swim, kick, skip, throw, smell, taste, touch, hear, feel, and catch!
Also, create a signal between a parent and a child in case of separation. I choose to have people clear their throat hard. I can hear well so that allows me to identify the person as well as identify their general vicinity.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
4. Do you have any advice for teachers (like the one you had when you were 9) who might have a visually impaired student in their class and how they can help support inclusiveness and provide a safe environment for the student? Any advice for parents of young children as well?
I’d advise parents to stay in communication with teachers as often as possible - a quick check-in may be all that’s necessary. Also, keep an eye out for any behavioral changes, difficulties with subjects or visual aids in the classroom.
My advice for teachers: be aware and educated on the student’s learning style, their condition, visual aids, and most of all show compassion for the difficulty that a child with a visual impairment will experience in a classroom setting. Given that the student will most likely perceive that all attention is on him/her, as a teacher, do your best not to actively draw unnecessary attention to the student, especially around their peers. The visually impaired student will most likely be well aware of what he/she needs to help themselves. If an issue needs to be addressed, wait until after class to talk about the situation one-on-one. I always preferred to be treated like my fellow classmates and allowed the leeway to make my own adjustments with my teacher’s blessing.
6. I find your statement about how you continue to strengthen your ability to identify an image through context incredibly powerful. The idea of "tapping" into other senses and testing the limits of brain flexibility in order to identify an object or person (same goal as fully sighted individual, but completely different method to achieve it) is something that should be shared and encouraged - Can you expand a little on this topic and provide a couple tips on how someone with low vision could practice this technique?
Throughout my life, I would look at and consciously remember pictures of the objects. Sometimes I will walk up extremely close to an object in order to see the detail and effectively “store” these details in my memory. I will also find bigger objects that usually surround a smaller object (that are more easily identifiable), which may allow me to surmise the smaller object’s identity. When I enter a particular environment (a grocery store for example) I will ask myself what types of objects, signs or people I may encounter in the particular environment? Just to be prepared. I heavily rely on my memory to safely navigate through environments and find what I need to find.
Also, I remember smells and sounds to gather further clues regarding objects or potential hazards. I can identify restaurants that I am in or pass solely by their scent or sound, even with my eyes closed.
My goal is to narrow down the possibilities of people and things in a particular environment by drawing from previous experience. In a new situation and environment, I’ll walk around, if possible, to acclimate and familiarize myself with the smells, sounds, and identifiable objects such as stairs.
7. When do you use your SightScope? What are its limitations in terms of your eye condition? What are the drawbacks?
I primarily use my Sightscope in the car, outside, watching TV, at the movies or at a ballgame. I tend to use my prescription lenses at work. When I walk, I usually have the bioptic lenses flipped down so I can quickly lower my head to better see an object with the magnifier, as opposed to only looking through my prescription lenses. Obviously, the magnifiers reduce my peripheral vision, but it may allow me to see or identify an object that I couldn’t identify without the bioptics. There is a tradeoff.
With the bioptic lenses flipped down, my glasses tend to slip down my nose, but this is a minor inconvenience to have the visual assistance it provides me. Looking through the bioptics does not correct my vision, but allows me to potentially see objects I couldn’t see before and, depending on how close I am, actually see details!
I am looking through my magnifiers with a severely decreased acuity, so while objects are magnified, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I will be able to automatically identify the object, but I will certainly have a much better chance of seeing it.
With my condition, I notice that there is a much sharper view from the glasses, but sometimes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Sharper is sometimes like rich chocolate; chocolate is good, but too rich can become problematic!
8. Do you wear your SightScope in public? How often do people ask you about it? Do you have any advice to a young child that could benefit from using a bioptic in a classroom setting, but might be embarrassed to use it because of what other kids might think?
I do wear my bioptics in public, but it does take some self-assurance and support. People have asked me what they are, and I respond simply by saying, “they allow me to see.”
Truthfully, I’ve been worried about what other people think of my assistive tools my entire life and positive self-talk (weighing pros vs. cons of wearing the glasses, channeling confidence, and telling myself, “people are too wrapped up in themselves to care very much about my assistive tools and how they make me look”) is all I can do to minimize this anxiety. Looking back on my childhood, I now realize that once my classmates saw my assistive tools, made their comments or asked questions, they no longer paid much attention.
9. Cost can be an issue for some when deciding whether or not to purchase a bioptic; can you give a couple reasons why bioptics were worth the money for you and any advice to someone that is on the fence about purchasing bioptics from their low vision specialist?
My bioptic lenses were provided to me by the state of CT. Because I qualify for state services for the visually impaired, my low vision specialist wrote a recommendation letter documenting the drastic increase in my acuity when I tried the bioptics on during an office visit and I received them. I have no idea how much they cost; I just remain very grateful that my Sightscope bioptics were provided to me.
If I were to purchase the bioptics, I would make sure I found a physical outlet so I could try them first! Visit your low vision specialist, a low vision clinic or try to find someone who owns a pair to demonstrate and test out. Not all assistive technology will work for everyone (like E-sight and NuEyes).