I will be writing over the next week about our journey with vision therapy. Although we’ve been on this ride for over a year, I hadn’t blogged about it at all because I wanted to protect the privacy of my son’s struggles, and frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to if it didn’t work for him. Today, I will be giving some background on how we came to find out about this.
My son was a struggling reader since the time we started homeschooling him. It was hard to determine just how much he was struggling, though, because his sister who is just 15 months older learned her sounds and then just took off with reading and spelling at age 4; she’s a natural student. So, initially, I didn’t worry. He was a boy, after all, and there really was no rush.
We held him “back” for 2nd grade, which he didn’t realize. When we moved to our new town, all of his friends (whose moms had held their sons back in K just for maturity reasons) were in the grade below him. We just kept him with his friends and continued to work on it. That year, he made some progress and was able to read through some Abeka readers. At the start of his second 2nd grade year he was reading the 2nd grade readers. I thought that perhaps his brain was finally maturing and he would start to speed up and other areas (spelling and handwriting) would just improve naturally as well.
In the fall of 2009 (he was 8.5), I purchased an inexpensive phonics book that suggested that it would help my son learn to read faster. For $15, I figured it was worth a try. The book was just lists of words sorted by phonetic sounds and families. This was when panic started to set in. I realized that he couldn’t read these lists of words! We went back to the readers and he could read sentences. What was going on? I figured out that when reading, he knew just enough words in the readers to be able to draw context based on the words he did know and the pictures. But without those cues, he could not read the actual words!
His spelling was also a weakness. He couldn’t seem to differentiate between the sounds of short e and short i(which until then I hadn’t realized are strikingly similar). His handwriting and other fine motor skills were also weak. Tying shoes and cutting with scissors caused a huge struggle. When he wrote, he often reversed letters.
But his mind was incredibly sharp! When doing his work orally, he had no problems in math or grammar. His reading comprehension was awesome though he often had a hard time expressing the answers to questions. He loved to be read to and had grown very fond of our chapter book read aloud times since the first time we read The Mouse and the Motorcycle. He had begun to illustrate original books with a passion. He would staple pieces of paper together and illustrate entire stories. When he sat down to read them to anyone who would listen, I was amazed that he used the exact same language every time he read a particular story…even months after the writing it! We now have a full drawer full of these stories and series of stories.
So my mind started racing – could he have a learning disability? And if so, could I really continue to homeschool him? After all, I am not trained in that area at all! I was a natural reader and speller growing up – I had never struggled in these areas. Or was he in that “better late than early” category of kids who would just take off with reading later than normal. Did he just need more time to mature? What was this going to mean for our family?
So I began to research learning disabilities and shared his symptoms with my online network/support group of homeschool moms. Most agreed that it was probably time to get some things checked. I read the book The Mislabeled Child: How Understanding Your child’s Learning Style Could Open the Door to Success. I was overwhelmed pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I found that most school districts would not be of much help unless he was at least 2 grade levels behind, which he technically wasn’t. They also test primarily for whether a child has a big enough problem to receive services. But I also learned that most reversal issues should improve on their own by age 8 and if not, it might indicate a problem. A few recommended that I look at the College of Optometrists of Vision Development(COVD) website. It was there that I first heard of vision therapy.
I read testimonial after testimonial about children who had really been helped by it. I also learned that if your child has dyslexia or a true learning disability, vision therapy will not be of help. If you Google vision therapy, you will find a myriad of opinions about it. For example, the American Association of Pediatricians has not recommended it and basically said it was a waste of money. Many opthamologists also don’t believe it helps. There are horror stories of people who spent thousands of dollars and their children were no better off. I consulted with friends who are school counselors and professional teachers – their advice was mixed.
I have basically come to the conclusion that the truth is: it just depends. It depends on who the doctor is and how much experience he/she has and that particular doctor’s motivations. It depends on what diagnostic tools the doctor uses. It depends on the individual struggles of the child. It depends on the amount of support from the parents.
But….some people love their chiropracter/accupuncturist/herbalist and insist that he/she has drastically improved their health. Many others consider them “quacks”. And some people believe they can give their children as good or better education than a professional teacher. And some professional teachers believe that the homeschool parents are doing a disservice to their children. The truth is: it just depends…and it depends on many factors.
We decided to keep an open mind. The covd website had a listing of doctors in our area that did Vision Therapy. The nearest to us was an hour away – yikes! The testing was $400 – double yikes! And insurance rarely covers it – triple yikes! But we liked that she doesn’t just test for vision therapy issues. Our doctor screened for dyslexia/learning/reading disabilities, auditory processing issues, motor skills as well as vision and vision processing issues.
My husband took him down for the testing over a 2 week period. The results that were found will be in my next post…