World Sight Day celebrated in San Antonio

TEAMability wants to educate community on blindness, vision impairment

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SAN ANTONIO – In honor of World Sight Day, the local organization TEAMability is inviting the community to visit its learning center to learn about blindness and vision impairment. TEAMability is a center dedicated to creating specialized therapies for learning based on a child's abilities.

TEAMability was founded in 2003 and service children across Bexar County with severe multiple disabilities. The center offers help with motor impairment, intellectual development, as well as sensory rooms for children to learn how to look at objects. According to Barbara Goldman, executive director of TEAMability, most medical programs across the country focus their therapies on a child's physical disabilities and may not take into account a child's vision.

Goldman says that many times a child's vision is misdiagnosed as blindness.

"These children have a cortical visual impairment, which means that their eyes are functioning normally," Goldman said. "The part parts of their brain that process visual information are not sending the correct messages, and (therefore) they're not able to process."

Although there isn't a cure for cortical visual impairment due to the brain being damaged, Goldman said the vision rooms at TEAMability are designed to create new pathways and develop new skills.

"We're teaching them to understand (that their) eyes can do something," Goldman said. "It might be as simple as looking at someone and making eye contact, or it could be developing the ability to look for a toy and (for the kids to) understand they can reach for it and obtain it with their hands."

Sarah Czerniak, 11, joined the TEAMability family a year ago. Her mother, Noelle Czerniak, said she has witnessed a big improvement in her daughter's skill and emotional state.

"The joy that she's been expressing is something very new for Sarah," Czerniak said. "For years we never saw her smile."

Experts determined that Sarah has a mitochondrial disorder and suffers from multiple health disorders, including cortical visual impairment.

Part of Sarah's personalized therapies include visiting the center's vision room, which uses fiber optics and black light.

"The visual skills room is very quiet," Goldman said. "It has rubber floors, it darkens and has very special lights that send up stronger stimulus to the child's eyes."

Bright yellow items shine in the dark room. According to her physical therapist, Melanie García, the color yellow is specific to Sarah's evaluation when she first arrived to TEAMability.

"We saw that she was very responsive to black light and to lighted objects in particular," García said. "As soon as we saw a yellow or, like, a green-yellow, her eyes immediately fixated onto those objects."

Sarah is learning to look. She's now noticing her favorite objects and her favorite people.

"She looks at my face now is already big progress," Czerniak said.

García said the work for Sarah at TEAMability is just beginning. She hopes to help Sarah continue grow. The personalized TEAMability therapy sessions for Sarah include helping her develop long-term skills such as "looking to grasp a spoon, toothbrush or toy that's in front of her," García said.

To find out more about the programs available at TEAMability Learning Center, click here.

The community is invited to visit TEAMability from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on World Sight Day.

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