Category Archives: vision therapy

Sundry updates

It’s one of those times when real life whizzes by faster than blog time, and I end up having to give you a list just to get things you need to know* out of the way.

*Need to know for full and complete appreciation of the blog, I mean.

So, without further ado, and in roughly chronological order, these things have happened:

– Mabel started school. So did Dash, of course, but this year Mabel’s the one with the big changes. I wrote a little bit about it here. She started last week, but after the long weekend of Labour Day, going back this morning was the roughest one yet. How long do I have to keep buying her bribes for? Until middle school, just?

Mabel in classroom

– The PTA book sale was a great success, in spite of a massive thunderstorm that rolled in on Sunday evening, shutting us down early and making some of our stock unusable. We had tarps to cover the tables, and put as many boxes as we could up there, but any boxes still under the tables that were in direct contact with the ground ended up sopping wet.

book sale under tents

– I may or may not have been a bookseller in a former life. But I should probably be one at some point in this one. I loved it. I loved the tetris-like challenge of “reshelving”, I loved remembering where I’d seen something that would go with this one, I loved seeing the droves of people buying so many books that they’d never find anywhere else, and by the third day I was talking to the books. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but they seemed to like it.

kids on ride at funfair

– I have Lyme disease, did I mention that? At least, I don’t actually have any symptoms, but I’m on antibiotics to make it go away. I had an odd fever with a stiff neck while we were in Italy and it was only when we got home that I decided, paranoidly, that maybe I had Lyme. I got checked rather than leave it to be a Thing I Obsess About In Bed At Night, and hey presto, I do. I never noticed the tick bite and have no visible rash. But we do live in a very high-Lyme area. My only lesson for you on that is: don’t be too paranoid, but do be just paranoid enough.

– We’re getting Dash tested for I don’t know what, a Learning Disability or something maybe, because vision therapy was great but it wasn’t the Ultimate Answer to his reading difficulties. The doctor I spoke to was trying to steer me in the direction of ADHD, but I honestly don’t think that’s it. I think he’s got some form of dyslexia. Or Overachieving Parent, it could be that. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, Third Grade seems Very Serious. Homework starts this week; I’ll see better how he’s keeping up when we get that.

Loft bed with desk underneath

– Or maybe I won’t, since he got a new bed and he’s going to do his homework in his bedroom now. Maybe I’ll just have to deal with Mabel’s homework. I’m really hoping that K homework is all drawing and stuff she likes to do.

All caught up now? Good.

(I’m making the photos big. If this has a terrible effect on your download times, tell me.)

Part two of this saga that might have lots more parts yet

About half an hour after I wrote that last post, I wrote more, because I still had lots to say about how I was feeling.

(Hello, have you met me? I process my thoughts by writing them down.)

If you want to know what happened at my meeting with the school, skip to the end. If for some reason following the inner workings of my psyche is not fascinating to you. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. It’s an endless source of entertainment for me.

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If you met him, you’d say Dash was a great kid. He’s not a bundle of neuroses or a group of symptoms. He’s a fun, polite, active, well-behaved, loud, annoying, thoughtful, responsible, curious, hilarious, infuriating eight-year-old boy, just as pretty much all eight-year-old boys are, probably. I don’t know, I only have this one. I like this one that I have.

He just happens to be quirky, and two of the quirkiest things about him are the way he eats very few foods and isn’t great at reading.

My next thoughts swirl, maelstromy.

1. If I had left Ireland more recently I would be concerned about not taking steps that wouldn’t be taken in Ireland, because those would be American-type steps, probably over-hyping, over-diagnosing, finding problems where there are none, trying to fix things that were not broken.

2. I’ve been here in the US, and a parent here, for long enough that that isn’t happening. Also, I got through all that, mentally, for myself, last year when we started on the road to vision therapy. That was like diagnosis lite.

3. Nonetheless, there is an element of feeling USA privilege here. It’s like white privilege, which it is too, except that it affects everyone who can afford health insurance and has access to the US health system. Which while not remotely perfect, gives us a lot more opportunities than we would have in Ireland or in many other parts of the world.

4. I don’t fear labels. Labels are good because they help people come together and get the things they need. In our case, we need Dash to be put in the right class next year so that he’s challenged but not struggling. If we need to find a label, some sort of diagnosis, to help the school do that, then that’s what we want to do. If the school can find the right place for him without a label, then we don’t even need to go down that route.

5. Unless the reading + the eating + things I’m not even noticing because they’re just Dash = Something Together that the school wouldn’t even consider thinking of (because the eating part isn’t relevant to them). And if that Something, whatever, contributed to a label that would help, then we should try to find out about it. Because that might better enable school to do what we need them to.

6. Or is he just a slow reader and a fussy eater?

7. I wouldn’t care, except that he’s starting to notice. He knows he’s in the wrong class this year. He’s getting teased for being the smartest in class, which he wouldn’t be if he was in the right class. But then he’d be the slowest reader and maybe get teased for that. He’s worried about what he’ll eat when we go places.

8. That’s a lie. I want him to love reading the way I love reading. I want him to crack a book and get lost in it. I want him to discover Harry Potter on his own. I want him to read the damn cereal box instead of asking me why there’s a picture of Spider-Man on it.

——-

Cut to the chase, Maud.

The meeting with school went really well. I went in saying, “I don’t know if I need to convince you that he’s really smart or really slow,” and they all said “Well, we know he’s really smart,” so that made it much easier. I talked about the way his reading is slow but he’s smart in all the other respects (sheesh, it would be so much easier to just have him sit down and read a paragraph for them, but I suppose then they’d say he might have been nervous or something; his actual teacher was not in the meeting because it was during class time).

And I gave them the “final report” from the vision therapy people, which I had called and asked for last week. I explained the situation and asked them to be sure not to say “Hooray, he’s totally cured and just like any other kid now!” So the report was a little more restrained in its declaration of his success, and included key phrases such as “may benefit from extra time to complete examinations and schoolwork” and “remaining concerns about reading speed and fluency”.

On foot of that, they said “Well, how about we give you a 504 for next year saying that he gets extra time for assignments and testing, would that work? And you can amend it if it’s not working out or we need to add more.” And I said “Yes please, that sounds ideal.” And then I stayed a bit longer and we got all the paperwork filled in and signed off and photocopied and now it’s in his file and all his teachers will know about it and be required to abide by it.

Easy as that. I was really impressed by the school’s responsiveness and willingness to work with me to find the best solution for Dash. Just like they’re meant to do.

So the urgency for figuring out other testing has waned a bit, at least until we have the food specialist meeting next week and see what they say. I was afraid the school would tell me they couldn’t do anything without some more official sort of diagnosis, but since that wasn’t the case, I’m happy to row back a bit for now.

Frozen eyeballs

The weather was fine. I mean, it was cold, and I got cold waiting for Dash to come out of school, and one of our cars didn’t start because it’s been acting up lately and this was probably the final straw, but happily we have two cars, and B was able to work from home, and my fingers didn’t drop off and by tomorrow things will be back to a much more normal around-freezing point and we have temperatures in the mid 50s forecast for the weekend which will be utterly tropical and we will all be outside basking in our bikinis, figuratively speaking.

So that’s good. I do have a new appreciation for those people of the frozen wastes of the North who deal with this sort of nonsense on a regular basis, but then again, they probably have structures put in place, both literally and organizationally, so that nobody is expected to stand outside the school for ten minutes even though they got there just about when the classes are theoretically supposed to be dismissed.

But mostly I think everyone should live in California, probably. Especially me.

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Dash had his last vision therapy session on Monday. He has maintenance exercises to do and I think we’re getting some sort of computer game thing that should help with that, and he goes back in three months to make sure his vision doesn’t backslide, but for the most part he’s done. Graduated.

His final assessment showed that his eye teaming and tracking are vastly improved, and he can switch focus from near to far at a very acceptable speed. He can do fancy things with focus that I can’t do at all, like seeing the magic-eye pictures, and knows how to relax and then sharpen his focus to order.

He’s still a strange mixture of reluctant and eager reader. He won’t look to find out the title of a book unprompted, he won’t peruse a book out of interest; but he’ll demand that I order the next in the series from the library and happily pick it up and tell us how many pages he’s read during his mandated twenty minutes an evening.

Yesterday at the library he read the signs and found out for himself why I had gone to the shelves I went to in order to pick up the reserved books.

I think we’re getting there.

Dash reading

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Onward and upward, people. Onward and upward and towards spring.

 

Vision therapy – not done yet

I’m feeling a little disillusioned about vision therapy lately. Since the Great Leap Forward that happened around September, I haven’t really seen much more advance with Dash’s reading.

We are approaching the end of his originally scheduled sessions, but when he had an assessment last week the doctor said that his eye teaming was still not great, and added a few more to work on that specifically. I told her that his reading still seemed slower than I would have expected, and she admitted that when he did the Readalyzer test, his eyes were still hopping around the line rather than following the letters sequentially as you would expect.

When we started this, early last summer, I felt that the worst outcome would be if they “passed” him at the end of his allotted sessions, said that everything looked fine on paper, and yet we couldn’t see any noticeable difference in his reading. I don’t think that’s going to happen – some of his numbers have definitely improved, and his reading level has definitely gone up a few notches; maybe I’m just asking for too much. Maybe I should be happy with where we are.

But then. A friend of his was in the house last week – a boy who I know is reading way above his grade level, so I shouldn’t compare them at all. But he read the warning on the side of Dash’s Beyblade arena (if you don’t know, don’t worry about it) just the way you or I would, fluently and conversationally, while Dash was still trying to get it together to focus on the first couple of words. It hit me, a little bit.

Reading isn’t rocket science. Everyone can read. It’s not hard. It shouldn’t be this hard. For Dash, I can tell that it’s a big effort. He’s not lacking desire, or curiosity, or interest, or practice, and he’s smart to boot. And yet, I heard him struggling over the word “house” last night as if he’d never seen it before. It’s as if he has to start over remembering the rules and concentrating hard every time he cracks open a book.

I just want to know if it will always be that way.

Two heads over a book
Reading to his sister, which is definitely a first, so I shouldn’t complain. 

Vision therapy: further update

Dash has a vision therapy assessment this afternoon. I haven’t been talking about vision therapy much because I want to do a big reveal when it finishes up, but I’m tired of waiting, and frankly I’m excited about the way things are going.

At the start of the summer, Dash was seven and a bit and fresh out of first grade. He was reading a little above grade level, but it was a struggle and far more halting and laborious than it should have been. He was comfortably reading books like this:

Book with one or two sentences per page.

More tellingly, he never spontaneously read a road sign or a store name. He resisted reading anything we asked him to, though he faithfully did his 20 minutes of homework reading every night, eventually, when all other options had been exhausted. He would blink and say the words had gone blurry after a sentence or so, but he’d persevere. It was painful to listen to.

He began vision therapy in June – two half-hour sessions a week, with a few minutes of “homework” to do every morning and evening in between. It’s hard to explain what the therapy consists of – reading and pointing and following arrows and picking out highlighted text and finding letters in order and learning how to focus and unfocus his eyes as if he were doing one of those magic-eye pictures that I can never do. Games and puzzles and things on a computer.

We had a preliminary assessment after six weeks or so, and to be honest at that point I was still ambivalent about how things were going. I couldn’t see any change, really, in his homework reading. I felt at that point that the worst outcome would be if his reading improved a little, but nothing really changed much, and if we’d never know whether he’d just caught up late as he was going to do all along or if the therapy helped.

Less than a week later, something changed. He started reading the next level up and stormed through a level-three Ninjago book in a few nights. Words didn’t go blurry any more. He was reading paragraphs.

Now he’s reading text that looks like this:

Book with many lines of text on each page.

He’s on his third Magic Treehouse book. He’s still reading aloud, and only for his 20-minute mandated time, but if you’d told me when we started this that we’d have reached this point as soon as October, I’d have said all my hopes had come to fruition.

Today he was off school. We were talking about his reading and he said “…and when I’m finished all the Magic Treehouse books, I can read higher-level books and when I’m finished all of those I can start reading about real things.”

“You don’t have to wait till you’ve finished all the fiction in the library to read about facts, you know. We have a history book at home.”

So he did this:

Boy reading history book

He read two pages about World War II, asking me what things like N-a-z-i and C-z-e-c-h-o-s-l-…  and D-u-n-k-i-r-k spelled, and taking in every word even though his supporting background knowledge and geography are pretty hazy because it’s quite an advanced level book of world history.

His handwriting has improved to the point where he’s writing essays entitled “Why my writing is so neat.” He brought home a report card full of straight A’s last week. (This is his first letter-grade report card, so I can’t really compare it to previous ones, and I really don’t care and don’t want to put any pressure on him to stay a straight-A student, but that’s a different blogpost.) Last week at a birthday party he willingly read out the list of scavenger hunt items, even though they were in an unfamiliar cursive font.

At Wednesday’s session I got talking to another mother. Most of the kids I see at vision therapy are Dash’s age or a little older, but this woman’s son is in tenth grade, which makes him 15 or so. His deep voice sounds out of place beside my son’s piercing trill as they both do their separate exercises with their therapists, around the corner from where I sit and wait.

This mother said they’d spent thousands and tried everything trying to figure out what was going on with her son’s reading. He’d bring home A’s and B’s but his homework was taking seven hours a night. He’d had an IEP (individualized education plan; for children who need extra help while in mainstream schooling due to something like high-functioning autism or ADHD, maybe). Nothing had helped until they discovered vision therapy. She looked at me with hopeful weary eyes and told me we were blessed for finding this now, when Dash is seven, for saving ourselves all those years of struggle. I don’t doubt it.

Vision therapy isn’t over yet, and today’s assessment is to get a better idea of how he’s doing and how much more he needs. But I am happy to report that things are looking good. No pun intended.

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To read more about Dash’s journey with vision therapy, see here or type “vision therapy” into my Search field. If you wonder whether vision therapy would benefit your child, read this very informative page and take a look at the checklist linked at the bottom. We found a qualified developmental optometrist in our area using this search. Feel free to e-mail me if you’ve any specific questions, though obviously I’m far from an expert.

Love is…

I love that we can ask Dash if he’s a little concerned and he knows we’re quoting The Princess Bride.

I love that Mabel just spelled the word “sad” all by herself, and said she knew it was an A in the middle because it’s the same sound as in “cat”, which is the only word she knows how to spell apart from her name.

I love that Dash is reading an honest-to-God chapter book for his nightly reading these days. A simple one, but a chapter book nonetheless. Before vision therapy, the idea of his reading that much text on a page was unthinkable. The words don’t go blurry any more.

I love that Mabel keeps announcing things like “Mummy, three and three more is six!” The wonder of math, afresh.

I love that B is reading The Hobbit to Dash at bedtime these days. I thought it might be a bit ambitious, but so far it’s going well.

I love that when Dash criticized Mabel’s drawing of a dinosaur, she replied, “When you say that, it makes me feel as if I’m not important.” He apologized. I high-fived myself in the kitchen.

I love that Dash is finally old enough to make his own damn cardboard swords instead of bugging us to do it.

I love that Mabel can brush her teeth all by herself.

I love that we can take public transport into the city, walk around, do a museum, and get home again WITHOUT A STROLLER. Escalators and steps are so much easier than finding the hidden elevator every time.

Children running

I do love babies, but I love having big kids too.

Vision therapy update

Dash has been doing his vision therapy for a while now – a half-hour session twice a week, with “homework” every day. We have had letter charts and arrow charts and number stars taped to the walls, and he has been pointing or reading or dancing or whatever he’s meant to do, morning and evening. Sometimes getting him to do it is just like school homework all over again, but he does it, and we hope it’s helping.

He’ll have another assessment midway through, and I’ll be interested to see if the numbers have changed. One thing about this process that I like is that the results are measurable; we’re not just wondering if his reading has improved, and if so if it was going to do that anyway. Of the barrage of tests he did at the beginning, we were provided with a list showing the range an average 7-year-old’s results would fall into, and then where his results were. Those aspects where his were below that range are the things his therapy focuses on, and when he’s re-tested we should see the difference.

We have at least continued with his daily twenty minutes of reading through the summer, even if other plans to beat summer slide, like daily copying out of a morning message, never got off the ground despite my best intentions and his avowed cooperation. This morning he actually continued past the timer’s beeping so that he could finish all of Green Eggs and Ham. Admittedly, the plot twist was not unexpected, and he’s well able to read all the words; but because he knows it so well he was happy to keep going and – for the first time ever – I heard him read with expression instead of just stumbling over one word at a time. I don’t know if the vision therapy has anything to do with it, but I was pleased.

The optometrists had given us, with Dash’s report, a list of accommodations we could ask for at school, such as sitting closer to the front, not being asked to copy from the board (changing focus from far to near is a problem point), getting some extra time for reading or writing assignments, that sort of thing. I was called in for a meeting this week to discuss these, and I was very pleased with the way things went.

I met with his teacher for next year, the principal, the guidance counsellor, the head of special ed, the school psychologist (didn’t even know we had one) and one other person, and it was mostly just a great opportunity to tell these people – most of whom had not dealt with Dash before, though I bet they’d recognize his big grin – who my son is, what a great kid he is, how much he loves school, and what’s going on with his vison right now. They were all open to learning more about how they could help, and we had a great discussion. I left feeling really positive about the school and its staff, which is a lovely way to start the year off.

In a most amazing coincidence, Dash’s best friend, daughter of my best friend (known in these parts as Helen’s Mom), has some of the same vision problems. There are just two days in age between her and Dash, and though we don’t see her so often any more, we spent much of the toddler years together at playgroups and playdates and library storytimes and the like. Helen (not her real name) is also a bright kid struggling more than you might expect with reading, though she’s reading at or slightly above grade level. Our story was ringing so many bells with her mom that she got Helen tested too, and vision therapy is probably in their future.

Which makes us wonder whether there was something in the water at all those playdates. Or maybe it was the extended nursing. Dun dun dunnnnn. (THAT WAS A JOKE. I WAS JOKING. I SWEAR I WAS JOKING.)

Diagnosis

We had the meeting to discuss the results of Dash’s vision assessment, and this – in bald terms – is what we learned:

  • He has an oculomotor dysfunction. That means his eyes don’t track smoothly or move easily from one line of text to the next.
  • He has a binocular vision dysfunction. This means his eyes don’t work together quite the way they should. This is what makes the words blurry and makes it hard for him to read from the blackboard.
  • He has difficulties with visual memory.

He’s going to start therapy in a few weeks, two sessions a week if possible, for 36 weeks. They say his “prognosis for improvement with timely intervention is very good. ”

The tests also showed things he was good at. He can tell left from right like a champ, which impresses me no end as I still have to stop and think every time. He’s very good at reading made-up words, which proves that he knows all the rules and applies them. I know he can read pretty much any word he wants to; it just seems that his eyes get in the way sometimes. His fine-motor skills and shape-copying skills are dandy, so his bad handwriting is within the bounds of normality and let’s just say he gets that from his father.

Boy reading

The doctor was particularly impressed, if that’s the word, with the way Dash tackled one of the tests. He was asked to read out loud along a line of unevenly spaced numbers, and then to the next line, and so on. She and I both observed that when he got to the end of the first line, he looked down to the end of the line directly below, followed it back to the start, and began reading aloud again from there. It worked – he didn’t lose his place – but it was tedious and slow and not the way the rest of us read lines of text. She said she’d never seen that tactic before, though.

I still have a lot of thoughts about all this. It seems like a very first-world problem. It seems like a very privileged solution. (Our insurance will probably pay for half of the therapy – the oculomotor part – but not the rest.) It seems like the sort of thing one could easily be duped about – what parent, when told they can give their child extra help, would say “Nah, we’ll just let him keep doing it the hard way, thanks.” Our bullshitometers were, if not exactly on high alert, at least engaged. Let’s just say that our healthy Irish cynicism had us vaguely wondering if they’re just trying to part us from our dollars.

Naturally, I also wondered what we’d be doing at this juncture if we were still in Ireland. I have no idea whether an assessment would be possibly or any therapy available if we were there. Would we be told he’s a slow reader and left at that? (I’m inclined to believe that many “slow readers” have these problems, but have been left to fend for themselves and catch up if they could. How long would it take? How much would they fall behind? Or does the pace of schooling now mean we have to catch up more quickly whereas back then (whenever “then” was) it wouldn’t have mattered so much?
 
But on the whole, though vision therapy is a fairly new field, it seems to get good results, and, obviously, deciding not to pursue it was not something we seriously considered. Dash’s teacher, to name one trustworthy source, has done this for two of her children. The office has excellent credentials and they have a waiting list for therapy and are extending their premises right now. (So if we are being duped, we’re not alone.) I asked the doctor, “Does it work?” and she told me it does. I’m willing to give it a whirl, because I can’t imagine a life where reading is not a source of joy and excitement and the best pastime I could ask for.

Lots of kids have speech therapy; this is vision therapy. We’ll see what happens.

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If you want to find out more, I found this Reading and Vision site very useful and used the checklist linked there to decide we should investigate further. I found the office we used from the directory at the College of Optometrists in Vision Development site, which lists those qualified in behavioral, or developmental, optometry.