It really was no surprise that N’s first visit to the eye doctor was such a disaster. But I wanted to know if his vision was ok. And he cannot tell us, because he is non-verbal. I knew he could not read but I figured vision was not part of that issue, because I knew he could play matching games. But a boy who was not interested in video games? Now there was reason to suspect a problem with sight or visual processing! So I called the eye doctor.
I asked the secretary receptionist at the time I made the appointment “My son is very autistic, is the doctor able to assess eyesight if the patient is non-verbal and cannot identify letters?”
“The doctor has many methods of assessing the eyes,” I was assured. In the back of my mind I heard the voice of doubt. She might have methods, but would N cooperate?
Our appointment was scheduled for 7:00pm, a good time for N as he is not normally tired at this point, and has had his routine day. We arrived to a waiting room with just one family besides us. A new place, N was instantly stressed and began rapidly pacing the room, while uttering his self comforting stream of babble….”is raining, no! Each to wan, no! Funny face, no! Try again, no! Your turn, no! Romeney, no! Running room, no! Go home? Home? The last two utterances were requests. I made eye contact and used the tried and true “first-then” approach: first eye doctor, then home. N repeated it back to me. He and I repeated the “first then” over and over like a pair of crazy parrots until N was satisfied “home” was going to happen, then he resumed his pacing and babbling.
The two little girls and their mom watched N anxiously. Their mother urged them closer to her. I don’t blame them for feeling that way, but I do get tired of being a kind of public nuisance.
I was feeling particularly evil that day and so I offered nothing by way of explanation to her or her children. I let them cower in fear.
Presently the assistant invited N to the first eye test. Here we go.
In an adjacent room was a funny looking machine. N was wary of it as soon as we entered the room. Could be a monster. I told the lady to use short simple instructions, which she did. “Sit down N”. I told him my special line for not going to hurt: “Don’t worry it’s OK”. He sat in the chair next to the monster. Yay! “Head here!” N began to jiggle and protest. No, no, no,no,no,no! “Don’t worry it’s OK”. After much reassurance he gingerly put his chin on the chin rest. “Look inside, watch the farm”. That only lasted seconds. N was not interested in the image. The scenario repeated itself for maybe half an hour, with increasing resistance from N, until we decided he just was not going to cooperate long enough to get a reading.
Then the doctor came in and tried to make friendly conversation to get him settled. Time to go into the office.
It was dark, and there was an ominous chair surrounded by contraptions at the far end of the room. It looked a bit like a giant mechanical spider. There was no way he was going to get in that chair. The doctor tried to show him what the spider’s arms were for: one was a blue light, one was a big set of glasses etc. N just did not understand. He dug in and would not go much beyond the door.
“Maybe we can just put some drops in his eyes and I can have a look at the insides, we can do that right here!” OK. We managed to get N to lie down on the carpet, but every time the doctor tried to squirt him with eye drops he would attempt to avoid or sit up. At one point I was lying beside him distracting him; at another point I was trying to hold him down with my full weight, just to get the damn drops in. The doctor and I tried singing a favorite song “skinny ma rinky dink, I love you” to get him to relax. Sitting by the door in the dark, in the doctor’s exam room, with my 10 year old kid lying on the floor, and singing little kids songs with the eye doctor made me think that we are the stuff of really entertaining reality TV. What would I call the show? “Weird or what?” was already taken!
After a carnival of effort we gave up, and decided to try a different day and time. It was 8:30pm and I was ready for bed, or a vacation. Two years later I am still trying to summon the courage for a second visit.