Many parents, adoptive or otherwise, may be struggling in their relationship, as I was with my daughter a few years ago, as a result of tension created by their child having difficulty reading. Last night, I sat reading aloud the 2nd book in The Hunger Games trilogy with my daughter, who has just entered her freshman year in high school and is required to read 40 minutes a night or at least 100 pages a week. This requirement is not a new one; throughout elementary and middle school, she was encouraged, sometimes cajoled by her teachers to read each night in the hopes of improving vocabulary, writing, and even reading “stamina.” It was not easy; sometimes we had an unhappy child who struggled while we were standing by feeling hopeless, sad, irritated, and even angry about her inability to read despite all of our best efforts.
Passing more than once the school vision test, the pediatrician’s eye test, and the eye doctor’s test, we eventually discovered what Dr. David Cook, a nationally recognized speaker, writer, and leader in the field of developmental optometry has termed, the myth of 20/20 vision – that “having healthy eyes and the ability to read even the tiniest letters on a chart at the end of a long room” does not preclude a child’s persistent reading difficulties and perhaps, attention problems. Our daughter was the one case in four where 20/20 eyesight is NOT enough for good school performance.
From Dr. Cook’s book, When Your Child Struggles: The Myths of 20/20 Vision – What Every Parent Needs to Know:
“20/20 does not mean that your child can see the chalkboard at the end of the day when he is tired. It does not mean that your child can see to read without blurred or double vision. It does not mean that he can use his eyes to guide a pencil when writing. It does not mean that he can control his eyes well enough to keep his place when reading. It does not mean that he can understand or remember the distorted information coming through his eyes. In short, 20/20 eyesight is absolutely NO guarantee that your child has the visual abilities to succeed in school!”
According to Dr. Cook, vision is more than eyesight acuity but refers to how your child uses his or her eyes to communicate with the world. There are seven main visual abilities for learning and these abilities can be learned and/or improved upon at any age through a process known as Vision Therapy. Vision Therapy is a process which relies on giving an individual feedback and practice to teach him to develop or enhance his visual abilities. In our daughter’s case, it turned out she had a problem tracking words so that the word F R O M, for example, was read as F O R M and vice versa. Vision Therapy identified an eye teaming ability problem and she began to practice exercises to teach her accurately to track with her eyes when looking from one point to another. When our family finally understood our daughter’s vision problems and began Vision Therapy, she became a better reader, a better student, a more empowered individual and our relationship became less strained.
Going back to school, in any grade, allows both kids and parents to determine goals, establish procedures, and set up a plan for “success.” My daughter’s coolness for reading persists somewhat but it is now manageable; she admits that because she would choose to read only the required textbooks, she agreed for us to read together each night partnering to fulfill her school’s requirements and coincidentally spending some quiet time together. I remain hopeful that someday she may truly enjoy reading but am satisfied that she continues to flex her reading muscle with me each night. While her reading difficulties have been a source of friction in our relationship, we are overcoming it with time, patience, practice, and our first tool, knowledge.
An increasing number of optometrists are growing more mindful of the importance to your child of the visual abilities that go beyond 20/20 vision. For more information about Vision Therapy you can contact the Optometric Extension Program Foundation, the organization dedicated to education and research in VISION; David Cook at www.cookvisiontherapy.com; and Gabby Marshall, OD, Developmental Optometrist and our daughter’s eye doctor can be reached at www.elementaleycare.com.