Thursday, September 12, 2013

Strabismus and academia

Yes, so what about it? Well, it's complicated. I will try to explain it though. It's important to understand that my vision never could be relied on and it was always changing over the course of time. Initially as a first grader I had trouble learning how to read. At the time I didn't get why it was so hard for me but my mother tutored me a little bit and in the end I was able to read. I read slowly but I had a very good understanding and retention of what I read. However, reading aloud never really worked for me. I would lose my place, misread words or start reading the wrong line. Because the early beginnings of math are taught with columns of exercises instead of long lines you need to track binocularly, I got into the math and really excelled at that.

So things went on like that during primary school... Putting in massive amounts of effort to read and getting good grades. During primary school I was pretty much one of the top of my class but I put a lot of time into doing homework because I couldn't always pay much attention in class.

By the time I went to high school, even putting ridiculous amounts of effort and time into learning started to be insufficient. Of course I would try but it was weighing on me. Performance, or the way my vision had adapted to strabismus with suppression, was already eroding. Seemingly I was still an okay student but it didn't make sense. My math skills, because of the more visual nature of algebra, were leveling out and reading and language related subjects were still not my strong suit.

Two years into high school I became aware my working vocab in my own native language wasn't as rich as it should be. I was highly annoyed by this. I knew I wasn't stupid but why didn't I just know this kind of stuff? In vacations I forced myself to read books and look up words in the dictionary I didn't understand. I was always very motivated to learn but there was this 'invisible' barrier. Sadly I didn't understand my visual situation and how it could be resolved at the age of about 14. I was resolved not to be defeated and things picked up more or less.

A year later we started being taught English and the beginning was easy enough. I am, you are, ... However I remember having to read Jane Eyre. Boy, reading a book in my own language would already take me an ungodly amount of time, let alone if I didn't understand half of the words. So once more I would battle through every page looking up words I didn't understand.

Half way through high school I was having trouble keeping up. Especially during math class I was already happy to have copied the black board and I would figure it out at home. Again, having trouble copying the blackboard is a routine complaint by someone with binocular vision issues. I remember myself saying 'I don't have much of a problem understanding it when I see the math, I just don't get around to seeing ALL of it in a reasonable amount of time.'. I mean... Could I have said it any clearer for someone to help me?

Anyways, don't think I was failing miserably. I was putting in ridiculous amounts of efforts still. That never stopped actually. I was miserable but not failing. I could not entirely make up for my visual disability that way anymore so I felt the need to change to another course of studies with less math. To make sense of it all I told myself I didn't like math and I wanted to focus more on language learning. Actually I really like math/science and if there had been some visual help I would not have to choose between both. My math teacher even tried to convince me to maintain the heavy math load because she thought I clearly had the capacity to do it. She was right, if it wasn't for untreated binocular issues.

If I was going to give up something, I didn't want it to be in vain. Me being me and still putting in unhealthy amounts of effort, started to take language learning more seriously. This might come as a surprise because now I do speak four languages with considerable fluency but I never had much of a talent for language. Well, it's hard to say since everything has been so distorted by abnormal visual brain development. I might be one of those people who think that talent does not exist. It's all about effort, persistence and most importantly, being given the opportunity.

So when high school ended I wasn't exactly in the best position to make a choice regarding Uni. Because of my lighter math schedule in high school a lot of things already seemed off limits... In the end I settled for Economics. It seemed the best compromise and with my visual problems which I still didn't understand fully it was actually an ambitious plan.

I was determined to 'show them' and to do whatever it takes to succeed. I did just that. In the process I accidently broke through suppression and got myself into a serious double vision mess further complicated by surgeries. Four years later, at the age of 21, I graduated with an MA in Economics and into total visual disability. My reading abilities were litterally worse than ever. Education without proper vision care is a scam.

I started doing VT during my last year in Uni already and continued two years after that up until now with considerable results. I am hoping to achieve my goals during the upcoming 'academic year' and maybe, just maybe, study something out of interest and ability rather than settling for a degree that can be obtained with serious visual brain disability.

PS: I simplified the story a little bit to make it fit into a blog entry. I'm actually writing down the whole story in book format but more on that later.

Related entries on this blog:
- Visual impediments to learning: what's it going to be? Your health or your education?
- An unsatisfiable urge to become who I was supposed to be
- Strabismus and sports

Related entries on other blogs:
- Correcting stupid

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