One of my favourite revelations as a first-time mother was when my daughter was an infant and I realized how wonderful it was to see the world as she did. We celebrated her firsts with enthusiasm; everything from rolling over by herself, to her little discoveries of the world around her. I was – and continue to be – blessed to partake in relearning the many things I had come to take for granted as an adult; first snowfall, splashing in rain puddles, following an ant in the garden, catching potato bugs (something my children still love to do) or reading a favourite book so many times the pages no longer held together. (We still have that dog-eared copy of “Tails” by Matthew Van Fleet.)
This past fall the subject of seeing through my daughter’s eyes came to the forefront again. This time it was about how she sees, and more specifically what she has been missing as a result.
My eldest (now in the second grade) has always been a very bright and determined child. She works hard and demonstrates great enthusiasm to learn new things – except for reading. She has always loved to be read to, even as an infant, and being an avid reader myself I exposed my children to books from a very early age. My daughter’s lack of enthusiasm for reading was of mild concern, as she was (is) young, and I, along with her teachers and pediatrician, assumed she’d appreciate books more once her reading skills developed. We forged ahead, with flashcards, levelled readers, and games such as Bananagrams and Junior Scrabble, in hopes of capturing her interest to read. She tried hard, and she did make some progress, but she hated reading. I expressed my concerns, but was assured that she was young, not to worry and that it would come when she was ready.
At the beginning of grade two her teacher pulled me aside during the second week of school to express her concern over the fact that my daughter was having difficulty copying from the board. It wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, but rather it took her forever to get it done, and that was with frequent reminders from her teacher. I was puzzled because we have our children’s eyes assessed yearly, and my daughter’s eye exam the previous spring showed she had 20/20 vision. So why was she suddenly (it seemed) having trouble copying from the board? Her teacher also took that opportunity to mention that my daughter didn’t always seem focussed in class. My daughter loves to socialize, so I assumed this is what her teacher meant, but no, she was referring to independent work and the fact that it took forever for my daughter to complete a half – page, whereas the other students didn’t have any difficulty at all. Admittedly my stomach dropped and my heart started racing as my mind immediately went to dyslexia, or other learning exceptionalities. My instincts were going haywire, and I decided right then, we’d find out what was going on with my daughter.
As a parent who frequently arms herself with the latest in information (yes, I am one of those Moms you’ll find in the child development and parenting sections of the bookstore and/or local library) I recalled reading somewhere that when a child is having difficulty in school, vision and hearing assessments are the first place to start. I made an appointment with our pediatrician, as I assumed that was the best step. Then, as I recalled what her teacher said about having difficulty copying from the board, I decided to schedule another appointment to have her vision assessed. I didn’t think things had changed from the last assessment which was less than six months prior, but instincts told me to check again. Having recently changed optometrists for myself, I decided to take my daughter there instead. When booking the appointment I explained that we were looking to have my daughter assessed for a learning disability, and felt the first place to start was a vision test. I was surprised to be told that an optometrist at the same clinic was a Behavioral Optometrist, and it was suggested he assess my daughter. Our appointment was made for the following week. My Mommy instincts were in full force by this time as they lead me to believe we were headed in the right direction.
Our appointment was with Dr. Fabian Tai. Having been to the clinic before I was familiar with the protocol, and several of the opticians and assistants remembered me. Expecting to complete the usual family history survey I was surprised to be given a two page, double-sided sheet of questions. Already I knew this was a different kind of exam. An hour and a half later, we had some answers. Dr. Tai was very thorough. He asked a lot of questions, some of which I wasn’t expecting. For example, he wanted to know if my daughter is competitive. (She isn’t.) If she was someone who easily held grudges. (She’s not.)Did she fall asleep while reading? (No, but she yawned a lot.) Did she miss words, or reverse words while reading? (Yes.) If she liked to play sports, and if so, were they team sports (no) or more individual (she had just started Tae-kwon-do). His questions seemed endless as he asked about school, her favourite subjects and her behaviours and responses to different types of situations. I have been using corrective lenses since I was 3.5 so I was very accustomed to eye assessments, this was like no other eye exam I had ever had!
At the end of the exam, Dr. Tai indicated that there were a few issues going on with my daughter. That he wanted to complete a second, more in-depth assessment (“There’s one more in-depth than the one you just completed?” I thought to myself) to provide a baseline, but that in a nutshell, my daughter had issues with tracking, her eyes weren’t working together as a team, she had trouble focussing from near-to-far and back again and that her eyes were ‘very tired’. And yet her visual acuity is 20/20.
Dr. Tai explained how in order to learn, all of the necessary components needed to be in place and in proper functioning order. He likened it to playing soccer (something my daughter mentioned she enjoyed), it wasn’t enough to simply kick the ball, you needed to see the ball, track the ball coming towards you, then determine where you needed to kick the ball, etc. If one of those components wasn’t working, then you weren’t likely to be very successful in the game. The same could be said for learning. 80% of learning is done visually. The visual system is more than just what we’re seeing; it’s also about how our brain processes what we’re seeing. In my daughter’s case, somewhere along the lines, a portion of her visual system wasn’t properly developed, hence her difficulties with reading.
My daughter’s visual issues include Convergence Insufficiency (CI) as well as Accommodation Dysfunction. (The second visual assessment further supported this diagnosis.)The recommended treatment is vision therapy, sometimes referred to as visual training. This is a series of activities and exercises that can correct or improve visual issues such as CI and accommodation dysfunction. I refer to it as retraining my daughter’s brain to see. In October we began a 40-week therapy program that consists of weekly, one-hour visits to Dr. Tai’s office and 5 days of 20-minute exercises my daughter completes at home referred to as “homework.”
As I continue through this blog, I will share with you the ups and downs of our journey through vision therapy. We’ve had some hurdles to overcome and no doubt we’ll have some more. Going forward I will discuss some of my challenges as a mother advocating for my child at school with educators who are very good at what they do, but are struggling to understand something they’ve never heard of. I’ll talk about some of the frustrations my daughter has had to deal with, some wonderful achievements she has made in a short period of time (we’re only 11 weeks into the program) as well as resources and articles that I have found helpful.
I hope you’ll continue to read a long. In the meantime, for more information about vision therapy/vision training you might want to visit Parents Active for Vision Education or P.A.V.E. for short. Their web site can be found at www.pavevision.org.