My son is seven and entering second grade. When he was younger, I didn’t push him to learn his letters or start reading, figuring it would all happen in its own sweet time. It did, but it always seemed to take longer than I had thought it would. I kept waiting for reading to click, for him to acquire fluency and start enjoying to read on his own. It didn’t happen. Even by the end of first grade, and reading a little above his grade level, his progress when reading aloud seemed halting, laborious, and painful to listen to. I started to wonder if there was something else going on.
We had seen a regular optometrist last year, who diagnosed a focusing problem and prescribed some weak reading glasses. These didn’t really seem to help and my son still complained that the words sometimes “went blurry.”
I did some research and found that the person we needed to see, perhaps, was a behavioral (or pediatric, or developmental) optometrist. This is an optometrist who specializes in children’s vision: that is, not just their eyesight – which in my son’s case is 20/20 – but how their eyes work together and communicate what they’re seeing to the brain.
I found this very useful Children’s Vision Information Network website (which will explain it all much better than I can) and filled out the checklist provided. At a conservative estimate, my son scored 29; they say that anything over 20 is worth getting checked out. Finally, I used the COVD directory to find an office with a qualified developmental optometrist in my area.
I made an appointment for an assessment, and a few days later my son spent two hours having a thorough eye exam and comprehensive vision testing. Two weeks after that, his father and I went back to the office for the big reveal: we were told that Dash has an oculomotor dysfunction, a binocular vision dysfunction, and reduced visual perceptual skills and visual memory. (This is not a subjective opinion; the tests are standardized and all his scores in these areas came in below the very wide “normal range” for children his age.) In short, he has problems with eye tracking, eye teaming, and recognizing and remembering shapes.
The good news is that, just as many kids today get speech therapy for speech delays, vision therapy is available for people with many types of vision problems. Dash was recommended a course of 18 weeks of vision therapy, and his outlook is good. We’ve just begun the therapy, which will re-train his eyes to “talk” to his brain more usefully, and I’m hopeful that one day soon he really will pick up a book and read it for the sheer enjoyment of seeing a story come alive in his imagination.
Christine lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and enjoys writing about herself in the third person. You can follow Dash’s adventures in vision therapy, as well as anything else she happens to feel like writing about, at her blog, Awfully Chipper. Photos are her own.