(This blog is a reprint from 2018)
Have you noticed your child (or student) becoming frustrated easily – especially when she’s doing something that requires visual concentration – like homework or reading? Or maybe he tries to avoid reading by fidgeting with everything on the desk or by clowning around or even by yawning and becoming “too tired to work”?
Before deciding your child/student has a behavior problem, take her to a developmental optometrist for a vision exam. You’ve probably already had her acuity checked, but vision is something different. Vision issues take many forms and include such problems as the eyes not being able to focus at near or mid point, or the eyes not moving across the page at the same speed, or the eyes jumping across the line or even up and down the page, and there’s much more that only a developmental optometrist can diagnose.
In the early years of school, Matt didn’t really have a reading problem, but as the amount of reading he had to do increased in grades 4 and 5, he couldn’t keep up with it all. In addition, he found that much of it he didn’t understand after he’d read it. He began to hate reading. By 7th grade he was convinced he would never be a reader, and he developed several strategies to avoid it altogether. He was “tired,” yawning and stretching every time he was supposed to be reading, even actually falling asleep from time to time. Sometimes he would lie and say he’d finished the work. In class he was beginning to clown around and found the other kids liked it when he entertained them, especially if it happened to be at the teacher’s expense. He put off his assignments and the zeroes increased each term. He said he didn’t care, but secretly he was convinced he must be stupid.
Megan, a sophomore when I met her, had experienced the same kind of past. In English class we were reading Lord of the Flies, and privately, she confided to me that she had no idea where the answers to the class questions were located in the story. When I asked her to summarize what she had read, she couldn’t do it. I asked her to read aloud while I listened. After she’d read about 3 pages, she started skipping words and then sentences. The longer she read, the more difficulty she experienced. I pointed this out to her and she was amazed. Her perception was that she was tired and getting more and more frustrated and angry with having to do this “stupid” reading because it didn’t make any sense to her. She too was now convinced she must be stupid.
Upon my suggestion, both of these students saw a developmental optometrist and learned they had a vision problem. They could “see” just fine. In other words, their acuity was normal, but their eyes were not working properly. Matt learned his eyes didn’t focus correctly, and Megan learned that her eyes didn’t slide across a line, but rather skipped over words randomly and when tired, skipped around the page.
Matt’s mom tells the story of driving home with her son after seeing the Developmental Optometrist. She looked over at him, and he was crying. She felt so sad for him and asked if he were upset that he had a vision problem. “Oh, no,” he quickly responded. I’m relieved that I’m not stupid.”
Although every vision problem isn’t always overcome, both of these students were treated over a few months and overcame their vision problems. Both students became successful readers. And most students no longer blame themselves when they learn their reading difficulty stems from a physical problem – a problem that is totally not their fault as they had believed.
When kids have problems learning, they frequently adopt disruptive or avoidance behaviors in order to divert attention from the problem or to escape the uncomfortable situation. Often they outwardly blame the teacher or the school, but the bottom line is that inwardly they believe there is something wrong with them.
If your child is having learning problems, the first step is ALWAYS CHECK FOR A PHYSICAL PROBLEM. The strategy you can use first is to ask your child to read aloud while you listen for skipped words and/or sentences. Notice especially any issues that show up after the child has read several pages. Watch to see if the child blinks a lot while he’s reading or if he gets into a posture where he’s able to cover one eye as he reads. If you notice anything you suspect could be a problem, consult a Developmental Optometrist. Many vision problems can be solved, and if your child has an issue that doesn’t respond to treatment, he at least knows the reading problem isn’t his fault.
Copyright@2018 Creating Responsible Kids, Judy Harmon Holmes, Ed. D.