Huffpost Parents
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. Headshot

None So Blind: A Mother's Hunch and A Doctor's Mistake

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

The picture is adorable; a pink little angel with feathery wings, wearing a faux pearl necklace and toddler-sized glasses atop her button nose. Her name is Emmelyn; she's 3 years old and immediately captured my attention. According to the story, Emmelyn is the youngest person to be accepted into the high IQ group, Mensa. As I read over this 3-year-old's academic achievements, I'll admit I was impressed. She scored in the 99th percentile with an IQ of 135, enough to qualify for Mensa. Again, impressive. But, as I read the article, it wasn't just Emmelyn who was impressive. I was also impressed with Emmelyn's mom, Michelle.

Michelle is the one who did the ground work that got Emmelyn accepted into Mensa. It might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Michelle is just a stage mom on steroids, à la Toddlers and Tiara's, but that's not the story here. You see, when Emmelyn was an infant, she couldn't see -- that is, at least not very well. As a result of her poor vision, Emmelyn didn't hit the usual developmental markers. She failed to reach for objects; she wouldn't establish eye contact; by the age she should have crawled, she didn't. Emmelyn's pediatrician pronounced her delayed and warned her parents she could be autistic. I can only imagine the horror of a parent hearing those words, especially coming from someone who's supposed to know. But having knowledge does not equate to being all-knowing and, sometimes, even the most professional and educated get it wrong.

Even with that devastating diagnosis, Emmelyn's mom, Michelle, decided to act, not on the doctor's advice, but on a mother's hunch. Instead of consigning her daughter to a category, she took Emmelyn to have her vision tested. Michelle's hunch turned out to be correct. Emmelyn wasn't autistic; she couldn't see. At ten months old, this "delayed" toddler received her first set of baby glasses. Immediately, she blossomed and by 15 months could recognize letters. She soon began to write those letters. By the age of 2, she could not only count but could count by 2's, 5's and 10's.

Opinions, however, die hard. Even with all of this evidence, Emmelyn's doctor continued to insist she was delayed. I guess that's when Michelle decided the only thing to trump a really smart professional was a bunch of really smart professionals. Enter, Mensa. Michelle sought out the group, looking for support for her belief in her daughter's abilities.

The article concluded with the happy ending of Emmelyn as the youngest Mensa member ever accepted. A happy ending, yes, but the story stayed with me because it was personally disturbing. As a professional myself, I couldn't help but think about the times when I "got it wrong." As hard as I try to help others to the best of my ability, sometimes I get it wrong. Not often, but certainly more than I'd want. As I thought about Emmelyn and more specifically Emmelyn's doctor, I had to ask myself if I can be just as enamored of my own opinion. I had to ask myself how many times I've dismissed the "hunch" of a mom or a dad or the person I'm trying to help because it didn't match with my professional perspective.

Of course, doctors have a reputation for getting it right. According to a 2011 study, doctors get it right 99.28% of the time. But 99.28% isn't 100% and that 0.72% wrong equates to $17.1 billion dollars a year in medical mistakes. Doctors certainly have medical knowledge; what is sometimes lacking is the knowledge of their own fallibility. I don't think that's a condition reserved for any particular profession; I think a blindness to see our errors is universal.

The old adage says, "There are none so blind as those who will not see." How true that is. Poor vision was cited in the headline on this story. It's important to remember that, ultimately, the one with the poor vision wasn't Emmelyn.