Through the processes of observation and elimination, we can often get to the root of a reading problem and begin working on correcting it. However, I believe one thing that either gets placed at the bottom of the list, or missed altogether, are issues related to the eyes. Sure, it makes sense to consider vision issues when reading or related problems exist. I am referring to issues of a different nature than those often initially taken into consideration. Even those children with 20/20 vision or perfect eye sight can suffer from vision disorders that obstruct learning. Eyesight and vision are not synonyms.
Consider these symptoms:
- Child seems to read well enough but recalls only portions or has spotty understanding, whereas, if material is read aloud, child has better recall
- Makes mistakes when copying from a chalkboard, book, or other target area
- Writes up-hill or down-hill
- Poor eye-hand coordination when catching a ball, throwing
- Displays short attention span in reading or copying
- Repeatedly omits “small” words
- Short attention span when reading/fatigues easily
- Reverses letters and/or words in writing and copying
- Needs finger or marker to keep place
- Head moves back and forth while reading
- Orients drawings poorly on page
- Loss of place, repetition, and/or omission of words while reading
- and the list goes on…
At the beginning of our last school year, I began to notice a few of these ‘symptoms’ in B. At the time we were working with an Occupation Therapist (OT) on issues related to autism. One afternoon I had B read aloud to her. The OT is a brilliant, out-of-the-box thinker and problem solver, and she picked up on some things immediately. This was the beginning of a process that led us to approach hurdles in reading/learning in a very different way.
Not the Usual Eye Exam
At the Optometrist, B underwent testing. It was clear early on that this was not going to be the usual ‘eye doctor testing’ I was accustomed to. The battery of tests measured the control and coordination of his eye movements. I was floored as I looked on and saw his left eye not do what it was supposed to do! The results of his evaluation showed deficits in several areas (depth perception, convergence, tracking, etc), and it was evident he had problems that would certainly affect his ability to read, write, draw and the like.
Pursuing Vision Therapy
This is yet another one of those instances where a struggle B was experiencing has led us to look at the world and people in a new way. Autism changes our perspective time and time again. I had a conversation with our therapist about the fact that as a former school teacher, I am certain I overlooked this factor in my students’ reading time and time again. I can now see that while B is a very athletic child, he has had trouble catching, throwing, going up stairs, etc. He is not seeing things the way he is supposed to because his eyes are not moving together properly.
While this topic is brand new to me, it all makes perfect sense. We are now involved in Vision Therapy, and I am already seeing improvements with the exercises we do at home. I am looking forward to having a success story to tell when we are further down this road.