We're thirteen years into our journey with Dane's cataract and vision issues so sometimes I take for granted the 'easy' point we're at right now. Yes, we still have to deal with his contact lens, wearing protective eyewear, wearing glasses and some other daily challenges but for the most part it's pretty good.
Every now and then though I'm reminded that things that we have been through are happening right now for other parents. I had a fellow cataract mum call me recently wanting to talk about Dane's experience at school and whether we had had any issues with his learning because of his eye. My first instinct was to reply, 'nah, he's all good' but then I stopped and actually thought about it and realised we have actually had a few tiny hurdles. You get so busy as a mum that once you've solved the latest problem you just move on to the next thing. But I guess they matter and maybe our experience could help someone else. So here are a few little things that we've come across in his school and learning journey.
Starting school wasn't too bad because Dane had already been to kindy and he was our second child so we kind of knew what to expect. Besides the daily fear of some other kid stabbing him in the eye with scissors or a sharpened pencil, he coped really well vision-wise. I was called up to school about every two weeks to either put drops in or take his contact lens out. He patched at home for about half of prep and then finished patching! As always, Dane wore his sunglasses every time he stepped outside the classroom (except in the photo above it would seem - naughty boy).
The Prep school excursion to Australia Zoo was a winner. Exhausting for me as a parent helper though!
This is when we started to notice things had changed. Dane was a pretty good reader - being so competitive he had to beat his older sister with sight word progression! But one night he was reading his school reader and I found he was making a lot of mistakes. I asked him to read with his 'good' eye and it was kind of okay but when I asked him to read with his 'bad' eye only (the contact lens eye) he pretty much couldn't see the text. I was freaked out! We scheduled a trip to the optometrist the next day but everything checked out as far as the bad stuff went. What we worked out though was that because his 'good' eye does the majority of the work during the day, it was getting really tired by the end of the day. The text was also getting smaller as his reading progressed, which was putting more strain on his eyes. Dane was also showing signs of being long-sighted in his 'good' eye. So we ended up getting glasses for him, with a bifocal in his contact lens eye - or the 'magic spot' as we called it. This way he could still see the board but be able to use the bifocal spot for close up work.
The good thing with the glasses was that it also helped with that daily fear of an eye accident - at least he now had some level of protection. All in all it was a great win. He's fantastic at looking after his glasses and touch wood still hasn't broken a pair.
Year 2 and 3
Things progressed pretty steadily for these two years. The biggest drama we had was getting him to keep his glasses clean so he could actually see through them! I seriously do not understand how they could get so dirty! Dane was really good with switching his reading glasses for sunglasses when he went outside. This was about the time we learnt about acanthamoeba and the 'water fear' began. I felt like I lived at school part time as I was called up there a few times a week to remove his lens because some kid had splashed water in his eye. His teachers were really good about this - as soon as we explained the dangers they had chats with the whole class. They even banned those water mist water bottles that were the rage for a while.
I did notice that his writing was really big in year 2 - and actually continues to be really messy and big unless he's pushed to write neatly. Honestly I'm not sure if this is a vision thing or just a boy thing. It's really hard having an older daughter who is an exceptional writer not to compare the two of them. I regularly checked in with his teachers though and they assured me he was doing great for his age and continues to do so.
Biggest change of my life - Dane learnt to put drops in himself AND take his contact lens out by himself. Unbelievable. The feeling of freedom this created was amazing. I still need to be close to school in case something goes wrong but if he's just got water in his eye he can take the lens out himself. Winning!
A big change this year has been screen time. Ours is not a device school but his homework is increasingly being required to be done on the computer. Mathletics, Maths Online, and then just researching for assignments means he's getting a LOT more screen time than we would normally allow. I do have to constantly remind him to put his glasses on when he's on the computer - because he can see without them he forgets easily. So far his optometrist is not too concerned with the screen time as it's realistically about 30-60 minutes per day on average and he plays so much sport to counteract it. But I guess it does make me start worrying about the years ahead when big homework starts!
Well year 5 was a bit different thanks to COVID of course. We started the year with the usual information sheet to the admin office and teacher, an explanation to the teacher that if Dane is complaining he's not trying to just get out of doing some activity, and restocking his lens kit to be kept at the first aid room. After an initial drop requirement, Dane ended up keeping his kit in his school bag so he could quickly administer drops if he needed to. Not ideal from my perspective because what 10 year old boy has clean hands but I had to give him credit for being responsible.
He was excellent with wearing his sunglasses when outside, clear protective glasses for inside PE and his prescription glasses when in the classroom. There are quite a few kids that wear glasses at school so he's had no dramas with being picked on.
Then we had our little stint of home learning when the schools were shut down. His school didn't do a lot of work so the computer time increased only slightly.
The big change this year was Dane's increasing interest in computer games - bordering on obsession. His time is limited every day but every day he needs to be reminded to put his glasses on. Because he can function quite easily without the glasses he doesn't always remember to put them on at home. This has just been a case of constant nagging.
The final year of primary school!
Things pretty much just progressed as usual, with Dane managing drops and removal of his contact lens himself. He was still really good about wearing sunglasses and tolerated wearing his prescription glasses.
The year of the device! Year 7 was the start of high school for Dane which meant starting at a new school and getting his own school laptop. As far as managing things at school went, the new school were quite adamant that his lens kit be kept at sick bay and so he would have to go there to get drops or remove his lens. We also needed to go through the whole explanation of his eye condition, lens management and the threat that water can play. And this year also meant starting to juggle multiple subjects and activities where he would need his lens in or out. For instance, he might have swimming in PE in the morning (lens out), but then have a math test the next lesson (lens in ideally), and then soccer for rec sport in the afternoon (again, lens in). He still couldn't put his lens in himself so there were times when he would just go the day without a lens in. No ideal but we had to do what would work.
When it came to the new laptop, obviously this meant an increase in screen time, especially initially when it was still a novelty. All his homework and assignments were now on a screen, so he was glued to it a fair bit. He was still really good with wearing sunglasses at school (after having to provide an explanation to the school as to why he had to wear them despite being outside uniform policy - don't even get me started on that!) and okay about wearing his prescription glasses.
Things went as per usual in Year 8, although he now kept his lens kit in his bag so he could do drops and would take it to sick bay if he had to remove the lens. This system seemed to work out pretty well. This is the year he became pretty bad with wearing his prescription glasses in class. It wasn't because he was being picked on or anything, it was more just an impatience thing. Apparently it was just too time consuming putting them on, taking them off, and he just wanted to get outside and play. Unfortunately it's much harder to police this sort of thing in high school as there are multiple teaches, so emails asking them to remind Dane to wear his glasses don't really work. We resorted to nagging and hoping for the best.
So overall we have been really lucky.
So overall we have been really lucky. Dane is pretty bright, always puts in 100% and we've had great support from both the schools he's attended. When each school year starts we print out some information about Dane's history and remind Dane that if he has any problems seeing the board or books then he is to tell the teacher or us when he gets home. Generally his teachers have let him sit near the front of the room just to be sure he can see.
From one parent to another though I would strongly suggest advocating for your child and if you have any issues at all taking them to the teacher and the school. Kids are really good at just getting on with things and don't realise there is a problem. No one is going to care about your child as much as you do so don't be afraid to push as hard as you need to for them.