Being different: its a fine line

25 Feb

One of my students has nystagmus. What is that? Well lets first look at a definition, because I had not heard of it either. 

Nystagmus is continuous uncontrolled to and fro movement of the eyes. The movements may be in any direction. This means that the eyes will look like they are moving from side to side or up and down or even in circles. Most people with nystagmus have reduced vision.

Nystagmus is a sign of a problem with the visual system or the pathways that connect the eyes to the parts of the brain that analyse vision. These parts of the brain deal with eye movement. It is not really a condition in its own right.

Some types of nystagmus happen when your eye gaze positions are extreme, when you looking far to the left, right, up or down and are a natural part of the way the eye and brain work together. Nystagmus which happens when your eyes aren’t in these positions is usually is a sign of a problem.

There are two main types of nystagmus, one which appears in the first months of life which is called “early onset nystagmus” or “congenital nystagmus” and another which develops later in life which is usually called “acquired nystagmus”. In many cases the cause of the nystagmus will not be known. Nystagmus is believed to affect between one in 1,000 and one in 2,000 people.

neurology_of_nystagmus_lFrom RNIB web site. 

This student also has aspergers, or what is now high functioning autism. What a constant challenge he faces? He is also 16, and wants to fit in. Thought your deal was bad? Try being him for a day!

On the whole he usually copes pretty well, but this morning we had a melt down. It seemed to be because he said he could not see the board to do the work in class and the teacher would not help. On further investigation, the teacher (who is well versed in his needs) says it is because he actually had to use the enlarged yellow worksheets that were made for him, because he could not see the other ones. 

We do try and integrate, we try not to make anyone feel different, we appreciate how he must feel. He doesn’t like to use the enlarged sheets, and would rather give himself a headache trying to see a normal font, so he doesn’t look different. He also struggles to tell us hoe he feels, and we usually see his difficulties outwardly display themselves as behaviour. 

Does that make him a naughty boy? No. Should we MAKE him use the adapted work? That’s difficult. He needs to make his own choices and at some stage, perhaps in a few years time, he needs to accept his differences and model his world around his own needs, which will be different to everyone else’s. That does not make him any less of a person. 

I admire him for the effort he puts in, which is much less visible to you and I than with other students. If we can help him channel that determination, he could go far in life. 


One Response to “Being different: its a fine line”


  1. Take your tunnel vision off! | Being Special - March 15, 2013

    […] have mentioned the child I teach who has nystagmus before. I have told the teachers what feels like a million times. The county advisor has been in. […]

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