Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gifted and learning disabled. All in a neat little package.

My kids are incredibly intelligent. I know, everyone says that about their kids, but mine really are. If you've done any reading about intelligence in the last five or ten years, you've probably heard of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner. He asserts that there are many different types of smarts, among which are linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, etc. There are eight in all. Go here for a quick overview of the theory. I've read some of his stuff and can pretty confidently guess which categories my kids fit into.

However, and this is a big however, two of my kids have had vision-realted disabilities, and apparently that's not uncommon. I say had because they are very correctable. We first figured this out when Abbie was ten years old and still couldn't read. She knew all the sounds of letters, and how to blend them, but complained of words swimming around on the page. I had no idea what she was talking about. Of course, being home schoolers, we were second-guessed at every turn, and I even did some of that to myself, but I kept digging and finally found something that helped her.

I took her to a developmental optometrist for testing, and we found that she had visual deficiencies in several areas. That doesn't mean she couldn't see - she had 20/20 vision - it just means her eyes didn't do the things that most people's eyes naturally learn to do to enable them to actually read. Her two eyes didn't work together to focus on the same thing at the same time - that's binocularity and convergence. Her eyes didn't move smoothly from left to right along a line of print - they moved in jerky, jumping motions, missing parts of words or whole words altogether - that's tracking. She had issues with size and shape discrimination - a b looked just like a p to her, an e looked like a c, and so forth. She couldn't translate something she saw on a vertical plane (blackboard or printed music at the piano) to a horizontal plane, as in writing it down or playing it on a keyboard.

Seriously, I never knew these things existed! And that's why many of these disorders are completely missed - because those of us whose eyes naturally learned to do them don't even know it happened - it just happened naturally without our knowledge!

So Abbie started vision therapy. I was a skeptic at first, especially while it was draining my bank account and running up my credit card bill, but we were so desperate to find something that would help her, we kept at it. Testing was $345. Eighteen weeks of therapy at $60 per week (it's much higher now). And insurance wouldn't pay a penny.

At the end of 18 weeks, the doctor said to let her rest for six months, continue to read to her, and don't push her to do anything with reading. After the rest period they trained me in some exercises I could do with her at home and that was that.

There was no overnight miracle. We wondered if all that money had been wasted. But we waited. And it paid off.

At some point not too long after that, Leah had been reading a Redwall (by Brian Jacques) book to Abbie and got tired of it. But Abbie was hooked and just had to find out what happened next. So she picked it up and started reading. By herself. At amazing speed.

She has never looked back. At 18 years old, she still loves to read. She has issues with comprehension, but we work on other strategies to help her with that.

One of the things that I clearly remember the optometrist saying in the very beginning is that if children don't like to read, there's a reason for it. Most likely it's because reading is hard work because their eyes aren't cooperating.

So when Elijah persisted in his "I can read, I just hate it" approach to life, I started digging. We found a new developmental optometrist near us (we had moved since the first one) and had him tested. Sure enough, he had some of the same issues, although not as severely. We went through the vision therapy program with him - it's computerized now - and he is reading much, much faster and almost enjoying it.

I tell this story occasionally to encourage parents to pay attention when their children say they hate reading. There's a reason.

For more info and a symptoms checklist to determine if your child may have a vision-related disability, go to Children's Vision.

Be thankful ~


1 comment:

Lisa said...

That is FASCINATING. Who knew??

My kids have both always loved reading, but I will definitely have to check out the intelligence link -- I've heard of it but haven't looked into it. Thanks for educating me today!