Yosef is my beautiful nine-year-old son. He has big brown eyes, a smile that lights up his face, and a perfectly straight neck. I know that’s probably a funny way to describe one’s child, but every time I see him standing proud and tall I am overjoyed, filled with thanks to Hashem that this chapter is finally behind us.
Our journey began when Yosef was only a few months old. Yosef was born full term after a normal pregnancy. At about three months, we noticed that he was presenting with torticollis, a condition in which the neck muscles contract, causing the head to twist to one side. I had some relatives who had infant torticollis, and I wasn’t overly concerned. It can sometimes be attributed to the positioning of the baby in the womb, or various other factors. My nieces and nephews with this condition had all received early intervention physical therapy to strengthen the neck muscles on the weaker side, and within a few months the issue was resolved. But when the early intervention evaluator met with us, he said that even though Yosef’s head sometimes titled to the right, his head and neck had the full range of motion and therefore didn’t qualify for services.
Our experienced family doctor gave us some neck exercises to encourage Yosef to turn his head towards the left, such as placing a toy on his left side and standing on that side and engaging him. I tried my best to be diligent about my new role as Yosef’s physical therapist, but we didn’t see much improvement. My son simply preferred to tilt his head towards the right. Yosef got older, and at every doctor’s well visit I pointed out his neck issue. But the doctor wasn’t alarmed because he didn’t notice any tightness in Yosef’s muscles and his range of motion was normal.
Baruch Hashem, life was very busy, and in the back of my mind I hoped that Yosef would outgrow this issue with time. I remember taking him to a professional photographer for his upshernish pictures. The photographer was a perfectionist and kept subtly straightening Yosef’s head, but his head is tilted in every single picture.
Yosef went from being an adorable baby and toddler to a sweet, lovable boy. I took him for additional physical therapy over the years, but we never saw any results. I was very bothered by the way he held his head, surreptitiously straightening it in the hope that it would retrain him to position it correctly. Other times, I did my best to restrain myself, as if giving it extra attention would make it worse.
As more years passed, I noticed that Yosef started holding his body asymmetrically, as well. Aside from his head tilting to the right, it was now also angled slightly upward. His shoulders and hips gave the appearance of being misaligned, too. When Yosef was seven, I took a year off from work after having a baby. I told myself that this was the year I would do whatever I could to take care of his neck issue.
We went back to the doctor and got the names of more physical therapists. On the advice of others, I also decided to take a natural approach and gave craniosacral therapy a try. I was busy taking Yosef twice a week to different therapies, as well as reinforcing them at home. I convinced myself that there was a slight improvement, but in reality there wasn’t much to show for all the time, money and effort we were investing in trying to help him.
At a certain point, the craniosacral therapist pointed out that Yosef’s right eye sometimes went out of focus. At his next doctor’s appointment, I asked for a vision screening. The results were normal, but I decided to take him to the eye doctor just to be on the safe side. The optometrist prescribed glasses with bifocal lenses to hopefully correct the eye. The doctor felt that the unresolved torticollis was causing the recent problem. A few months passed, but it only got worse. Yosef’s eyes weren’t working in sync, and his right eye didn’t focus properly. The optometrist recommended vision therapy in addition to a slightly higher prescription. For several months, I diligently took Yosef to vision therapy once a week.