Imagine that you are in the middle of a great story. You eagerly pick up your book, excited to find out what happens next. You open the page, but your eyes cannot make sense of what they see. You could read the book yesterday, but today you’ve lost that ability.
Or imagine that every time you try to read, you’re unable to control your eye movement. Your eyes skip all over the page, and you’re unable to track the correct order of the letters or words. But someone is asking you to read, and expecting that you should be able to do so. You don’t know that it’s not so hard for everyone, and you feel stupid and isolated as you hear your classmates giggle.
What if you could see the page, but the sheer number of images overwhelmed you? What if you tried to read, but your eyes became immediately fatigued and reading was physically painful? What if trying to read triggered a headache that lasted all day long?
Everything I’ve described is something that can happen to someone who has a visual processing disorder. While the person’s eyes may be completely healthy, the way their brain processes what they see may be atypical.
If any of these things happened to me when I tried to read, I would probably give up. I would try to avoid reading, writing and anything that made me feel so badly. And my very favorite hobby, reading, would be out of my reach.
Educating Hope has always been a pretty challenging adventure. Whether she has been in traditional school or home schooled, she has always performed well below her potential.
If you look at her test scores, her situation looks bleak. At 14 years old, she is academically struggling with kindergarten/first grade level tasks. Her ability to complete a task varies greatly from day to day. Some days, she whips through something with no problem, and the next day she can’t do it at all.
It’s frustrating for me as her teacher, but it’s so much worse for her. It’s all too easy to blame it on autism, but I think that’s selling Hope short. I know quite a few kids who are greatly impacted by autism, but they can read, write, type and express themselves. Although they need greater support and some modifications, many of them are performing at or close to grade level. And I believe that Hope has that potential.
There is no question that she is very intelligent. Although her speech is impaired, she is able to communicate through gestures, signs and some words. She problem solves extremely well when she’s motivated to fix something, and her memory is amazing.
When she was very small, I used to sing “Lullaby and Good Night” to her at bed time. I probably hadn’t done so since she was about 3 years old, but a few months ago I was tucking her in and she started singing it, and indicating that she wanted me to sing it with her. She remembered the tune and could approximate all the words, and I don’t think she’s heard it more than a handful of times in the last 11 years.
So we know that she has a great memory, and we’ve seen how smart she is, but still she struggled with reading, writing, math and pretty much all academic subjects. She also very much dislikes using computers, i Pads, hand held gaming devices or video games on the TV. She does have a few favorite shows, but she watches them over and over and it takes her a long time to warm up to something new.
Writing or completing worksheets is very difficult for her. Her writing is huge, erratic and all over the page. We have to cover worksheets and only show what we want her to work on in the moment. She can’t look at an entire page without becoming overwhelmed and upset.
She’s been working so hard in occupational therapy, but struggles greatly with writing neatly and keeping her letters a reasonable size with reasonable spaces between them. Her occupational therapist suggested that we have her examined for a visual processing disorder.
Last week, we began the first step in this process with a regular eye exam at a local college that trains optometrists, dentists and other specialists. Hope was able to read the eye chart, and was very cooperative about using the patch to cover one eye at a time. I wasn’t sure that she’d be up for that!
She also put her chin and forehead on the machine that examines eyes. She actually did a great job and was able to look through the hole at the balloon long enough to get a reading in both eyes. They were able to do a glaucoma test in one eye, but after she felt that puff of air, no way was she putting her face back on that stand, so we weren’t able to do the left eye this time.
She then had an exam with two student optometrists. Although she’s not able to look through lenses and tell them which one looks better, she was able to do a fair bit of the typical eye exam. Then the student’s instructor came in to check things over and do her own exam. She got out her light to try and get a good look at the back of Hope’s eye, but Hope got very nervous.
I realized that the chair she was sitting in was identical to the one at her Ear, Nose and Throat doctor’s office, and she despises getting her ears checked. When the doctor brought out her light, it looked a lot like an otoscope, and that’s what had her so upset. I suggested that perhaps if they let her out of the chair, she would be willing to have them look at her eyes. One of the students got her a regular office chair and once she was seated in that, she was much more relaxed and cooperative.
The answer we received is that she actually has excellent vision and very healthy eyes, which is wonderful news. But the way her brain is interpreting what her eyes see doesn’t seem to be working quite right, and they believe she most likely does have a visual processing disorder.
There are several different visual processing disorders, and she may have one or several. We’ll go back in a month for testing to try and figure out exactly what she’s dealing with, and then determine if she will need vision therapy, special glasses, accommodations or all of these.
And so, it looks like we will have yet another diagnosis for Hope, and my heart aches a little. But, I’m also kind of excited. Do we have an answer as to why she’s struggled so much with reading and writing? Could we help her to re-mediate her vision processing issues so that she can be more successful? It would be such a blessing and honestly, it would change her life.
Although I’ve known that visual processing disorders are a thing, I know very little about them and about how to help someone who is struggling. And so I’m going to be doing a lot of research and waiting anxiously to get some answers about how to help my girl achieve her best.
Another adventure begins, and I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.