Kids learn at an amazing rate and they are capable of so much more at an early age than we ever imagined. It’s that accelerated learning process that keeps us parents in awe and actually makes us super annoying when our kids are toddlers and preschoolers because we are all secretly convinced that our children are gifted (whether we say it out loud or not).
So imagine my surprise when my oldest daughter entered kindergarten and we discovered that she had trouble reading.
We had done all of the right things leading to that point. We are a reading household. She saw her dad and I with books constantly. We read to her from infancy. We sent her preschool for two years. We investigated the sounds of letters, the value of numbers and worked on small-motor skills. We had set her up for kindergarten in a manner worthy of any parenting book.
Nevertheless, she struggled to read words. She knew the sounds but she usually guessed at words once she looked at the beginning sound. And she wasn’t a good guesser. “cat” would be “cake”. She couldn’t understand words in the context of a sentence enough to figure out if they were out of place. It almost seemed that she didn’t understand that the language she was supposed to read was the same one that she was speaking. She loved books – the idea anyway. She could remember what we read to her so it wasn’t a comprehension problem. We were baffled.
In first grade, she made the official move to the reading specialist at school. She also went to a class to improve her fluency. All the while, we worked on reading at home. I remember one assignment at the beginning of the school year where the kids had to practice a paragraph until they could read it in under five minutes (not an unrealistic goal). That feat took us 3 hours to complete. Three. Hours.
By second grade, she had three interventions throughout the day. We were so thankful for our school and their willingness to work with her but no one could quite figure out what the problem was. She had a good vocabulary, she decent comprehension, but she read so slowly, pausing between words. Her schoolwork took her forever to complete and was always messy.
We got some insight to her issues when we took her to for her yearly check up at the eye doctor. My husband and I are both nearsighted we have our kids evaluated often. We found out that year that Brook was nearsighted in one eye and, because of astigmatism, farsighted in the other. This dissonance of focus was giving her pause as she read since she has to figure out which eye to view the words with. The eye doctor assured us that the new glasses would make life easier for her so we expected great things.
Third and fourth grades, however, proved to be more of the same. Lowest reading group, more interventions, and now her math grade was suffering. Math fact timings were getting the best of her. Eventually; the teachers decided not to make them part of her grade. She loved to read and discuss books in class and listen to them on CD but hated to read them on her own. We got through many a chapter book only because I read every other page alongside her in an effort to prod her along.
Then, everything changed in fifth grade. At our yearly optometrist appointment, I was watching the doctor test Brook’s ability to focus on a moving object. Her eyes darted all over the place, only staying on the subject for a fraction of a second before shooting off in the opposite direction. Immediately, the eye doctor looked at me and said, “I’m glad you saw that. We can fix it.” We were referred to the vision therapist.
I now understand exactly how rare it is to both find an eye doctor that utilizes vision therapy and also that has a vision therapist on staff. We were incredibly blessed that this was our situation.
Bryan and I were curious and maybe even skeptical at the vision therapy evaluation, especially since we knew the process would take up to 24 weeks and wasn’t covered by insurance. Then we filled out some initial paperwork where we had to check off various indicating behaviors. That list described our daughter in detail.
Slow reader. Check
Guesses words when reading. Check
Sloppy handwriting. Check
Doesn’t sit still while doing homework. Check.
Avoids sports with balls. Check.
Gets lost when copying assignments. Check
And on and on and on.
We were overwhelmed. Wow. We knew we were exactly where we needed to be.
There are several reasons why an individual may need vision therapy. For our girl, it was that her eyes didn’t work together nor could they stay focused in one area for a reasonable amount of time. No wonder it took her forever to read sentences or do math timings. She was always losing her place.
Vision therapy is no joke. It retrains the way that your eyes and your brain communicate. This takes time. We attended 45-minute sessions office every week for 20 weeks. And she had homework to be completed 5 times/week, which took up to a half-hour. This of course was added on to her school load that already took her longer than most kids. Vision therapy costs as much as one year of orthodontia and needs to be paid for out of pocket.
But it was worth every penny and every minute we put into it.
She doesn’t get behind when copying noted from the board.
She no longer takes hours to read a few pages in a textbook.
She completes her homework in a timely manner.
Unfortunately, vision therapy is not a cure all, though. She still has habits that were ingrained in her during those first few years of elementary school.
She doesn’t like to participate in sports.
She doesn’t like to read.
But worst of all, she thinks she’s dumb. All those years of being pulled for special support have stuck with her and she’s sure that she doesn’t measure up to the other kids. Even though she’s pulling A’s and B’s in middle school without any intervention at all. It breaks my heart.
However, if you have a kid who is struggling in school and you just can’t figure out why, I urge you to have them evaluated by an eye doctor. They may not need glasses but they might have a visual processing disorder that can be fixed. Check out www.visiontherapy.org for more information.