Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sports and Vision - Brick Stars Hockey

I've written a few times about my daughter who plays on a special needs hockey team. Three years later Belle still loves to skate and play hockey. For a child with visual and perceptual issues, the fact that she is able to skate with ease (and quite fast now!) and play a physical sport like hockey never ceases to amaze me. I could watch her play, forever.

The program that she participates in is called the Brick Stars, and was recently highlighted in Asbury Park Press newspaper. I share this here so others could take from the example of my daughter and the many other children in this program who have made huge gains both on and off of the ice. I truly feel that playing hockey has in many ways given me my daughter back. Not only been the ultimate in vision therapy for her but it has boosted her self esteem, broke her out of clingy/shy behavior, motivated her, and gotten her active and physically fit.

In the beginning she couldn't skate at all. In early games she go on the ice assisted and take "set up" goals. Now she plays without skating help and is in on the action. She's scoring goals left and right and skating fast, maneuvering around kids who are 3 times her size (or more). She is not letting her "disability" and vision challenges stop her.

Last season they had her using a special high contrast vision puck (pictured) which was a really effective training tool. Belle uses the "junior" puck, which is the one shown on the top of the photo - with the largest 'dot' in the center.

From Hockeyvision.com:

Why use the Hockey Vision Pucks:

Hockey is the ultimate visual sport! Nearly all the skills that are important for Sport Vision, in general, apply to Hockey. The speed at which the puck travels, the quick transition found in the game from offense to defense, and the speed of recognition needed to make game decisions all come down to your Hockey Vision ability! When training with a smaller black surface area, your eyes and hands will become accustomed to playing with a smaller puck surface area. Therefore, when switching back to playing with a normal puck, the puck is easier to see and handle on your stick with your "split-vision" and the player becomes more confident in his/her ability to handle, see, and react with the puck.

To play hockey at a high level you need to be able to combine:

  • Focusing
  • Vision and Balance
  • Eye-Hand Coordination
  • Tracking, and
  • Eye movements

We also recently purchased Belle some new sports goggles. The photo at the top of this blog entry shows her wearing them.  The old ones that she had (an older style of the Rec Specs) weren't fitting well under her helmet and kept fogging up.  So, she had been wearing a pair of her day to day glasses that had polycarbonate lenses (as all her glasses do) and fit well under her helmet (which has a facecage).  Given how often she was skating, I knew we needed to get her new sports goggles.  We went with RecSpecs Maxx-20 (MX-20) model.  She loves them and they stay on her head well (they have a strap) while still fitting comfortably under her helmet.  I actually took the helmet with me to the store when we bought them.  Surprisingly, the cheapest place I found was Wal-Mart and I had a great experience dealing with the optical shop there. Her goggles took about a week to be made but the savings was worth the wait - they cost under $100 which at several of the places I'd shopped around the frames alone cost that.  

But, back to where I started... Sharing about this fabulous program for special needs children that has changed my daughter's life.

And that’s just what their time spent on Sunday mornings at the Ocean Ice Palace is for every parent of a special needs hockey player in the Stars program — pure joy.
It certainly has been for MaryTara Wurmser, whose daughter, 6-year-old Isabelle, has been with the Stars since its beginning in 2009 and currently is the only girl in the program.
Isabelle has a neurological disorder that affects her eyesight, making focusing on anything difficult, particularly moving objects. She used to wear eye patches to help try to correct her vision, but hasn’t worn a patch since March, and MaryTara says it has everything to do with Isabelle playing hockey.
“She still has some issues with the puck going left to right, but she’s doing really well,” Wurmser said. “She used to be a little shy and introverted. But this program has done wonders for her. It’s given me my daughter back.”

4 part series of articles & video linked below:

Brick Stars program brings hockey to the special needs community

Players enjoy social interaction within Brick Stars program

Parents of Brick Stars players sing program's praises

Volunteers make the difference in Brick Stars program

Related Link:

Overcoming vision challenges

1 comment:

  1. That is so cool! My 22 month old has intermittent exotropia. Things are still up in the air regarding his treatment/surgery, and who knows where he will be when he is 6, but I am so happy to read that this program exists. We also live in NJ, and are big Devils fans! Thanks for sharing your daughter's issue with the internet - for Moms like me it's a comfort. :)