View Full Version : My/DD's experience with dyslexia and visual processing/integration disorder

04-20-2015, 11:09 AM
I wanted to share my experience with DD and her reading delay. (Sorry it's so long).

DD is currently 9 and in the 4th grade. She has been homeschooled since K. She was never professionally evaluated or diagnosed with dyslexia, but I have no doubt she would have been if she were in public or private school.

At age 7, she was decoding very simple texts ("cat on the mat" level) with great effort. The effort it required interfered with her comprehension. It was exhausting, and she could sustain the effort for only a very short time. She knew her alphabet, and I felt that she understood the theory of phonics. She is bright and her verbal skills are very high.

We took her to an optometrist, who said her vision was "slightly farsighted" but she didn't need any correction. (It's probably beside the point that the optometrist was also oddly hostile).

Not knowing what else to do, we decided not to panic. I kept exposing her to reading practice but consciously avoided making it a chore. I did not make her practice any more than she was willing. In retrospect, I think this was perfect for my DD's situation. She maintained her motivation and enthusiasm for reading. So I would read her a beginning-reader type book, and just occasionally point to a single word for her to read.

Her appetite for reading exceeded my voice, so she listened to audio books borrowed from the library. Thankfully, they have a nice selection. She listened to a book a day. I read to her as well. The level of books she listened to far, far exceeded her ability to read. But she was exposed to stories and literature, and her motivation to read print stayed high. She would play (dolls or whatever) while listening to the books.

When she was 8 years old, my MIL mentioned a recent visit to her optometrist, and something just clicked for me. My MIL had told me before about her visual experiences, but I didn't fully understand them. She also never had a label for them, so I never thought to try to look it up. When MIL is stressed, her visual field closes and she loses all peripheral vision. Also, I had noticed that she wasn't much of a reader, which was a little bit surprising because she is very smart, and was a teacher. I started asking her questions, and then I made an appointment for DD to see MIL's optometrist, who has been working with her for 30 years and was an expert on her particular issues.

The optometrist gave DD a series of tests, which were eye-opening to say the least. I don't know if I can explain them all, but I'll try to explain a couple of them.

In one test, he showed DD simple shapes printed on a sheet (one at a time), and had DD copy them with pencil and paper. There were maybe six shapes to copy, and the first five were simple, but the sixth was a little different. It was not terribly complex, but there were some overlapping lines. DD's drawings of the first five shapes were perfect, but the sixth shape was just odd and disjointed. It was like she didn't see the full shape, didn't see how it fit together. I'd like to add that DD is an accomplished pencil artist - I don't feel it's exaggerating to say her skill is phenomenal. So this clearly revealed something about how she saw the shape, not a limitation of her ability to manipulate the pencil.

The other test I'll mention was on a computer terminal. There was a set of symbols/shapes, and a number under each. For example:

$ # @ % (etc)
8 1 3 4

Basically like a code decryption rubric. Below that was a string of the code, jumbled. DD had to just enter the correct number for each symbol. So if the first symbol was %, she should enter a 4. The rubric was right at the top of the screen, she didn't have to memorize anything. But I could tell right away she was going to have a very hard time with this task, and she did. It was a timed test, and she got only about 3 or 4 symbols in when her minute was up.

On the other hand, yet another test showed (as the optometrist expected) she was well above average with a certain visual task - she was given a sheet of paper with scribbled lines and small circles, all mixed up. It was a visual mess. She was asked to count how many circles she saw, and she found them all. For those of us with typical visual processing, it was a difficult test (and I thought so too, as I looked over her shoulder while she did it - she was counting circles faster than I could find them myself).

So she has a visual processing "disorder," though the optometrist explained that she this is in reality a type of normal/excellent vision that is simply not favored in our current society.

Some people have eyes like farmers or hunters, he said, able to scan the environment and find what they need to see: a deer darting behind a tree, bugs on the potato plants, a particular plant in the row bent out of shape. DD's ability to find the circles in the scribbles was an example of that type of skill. Being "farsighted" also fits in with that, but it's not actually about the farsightedness, but about how the brain integrates what the eyes take in.

Other people, he said, are like accountants or scribes or tailors, and their vision is based on close, focused work. They do not scan to find anomalies or patterns; their eyes follow a linear path from here to there, and can keep that focus.

Obviously, in our book/computer/TV/smartphone society, it's all about focused work, looking at one particular thing for hours at a time. We have pathologized "farmer vision" in our modern era.

Wow, sorry for writing so much. I will return later to tell what happened next, the things I have noticed that indicate this type of visual style, and what I find helps DD.

04-22-2015, 11:55 AM
Thanks for sharing! Im glad you found some help!

The theory about different types of vision - is exactly what the anthropologist I scribed for when DS was younger studied on his last research trip to Papua New Guinea. (He was Margaret Meads field assistant in the 50s.... one of my jobs for him was transcribing reel-to-reel conversations between them.)

The way he explained it to me was that the people who lived along the coast saw things a lot differently than their neighbors who lived in the jungle, even though they intermarried. Coast people would look at (essentially an inkblot) and describe it as its overall shape. Jungle people would not only make micro-assessments, but would try making connections between everything. *The dogs are chasing the bird with a broken wing up the mangrove tree next to the cove where the sun is setting behind some clouds...*

I hadnt heard this theory anywhere else until now. :)

04-22-2015, 02:37 PM
That is SO INTERESTING! Seriously, aside from either going to medical school or stumbling across interesting anecdotes, I wish there was a way to learn more about this stuff.

Did the optometrist have any advice for helping your daughter with reading, or are audiobooks the way to go for her?

My daughter has a learning disability with respect to math. She was evaluated last year, but I didn't really think that they pinpointed exactly what the problem was and how to address. I don't think they know, frankly. The psychologist said that there is far more research about reading issues than for math issues.

04-22-2015, 06:47 PM
Avalon, I went to medical school and I still don't know all this stuff. I am now wondering about my DD and where in the world to have her eyesight tested.

04-25-2015, 05:51 PM
OK, here's the rest of this particular novel :)

The optometrist prescribed special lenses. They do not correct visual acuity at all - her acuity is perfect. The lenses use prisms in some way that relax the eyes and accentuate peripheral vision - or at least, that's how this layperson understood it.

When DD is stressed - and tasks that challenge her particular visual type stress her, such as the test she was given to decode the string of symbols - her visual field closes and she loses her peripheral vision. Under normal circumstances, her peripheral vision is just fine, though. The lenses are only needed for close work - basically just reading, including math and music.

When she first got her lenses, she was very excited to try them out. It's difficult to sort out the different variables (for example, DD was excited and thus extra motivated to read when she got the glasses), but I would say that we noticed an improvement right away. It wasn't night and day but a definite improvement. She was practicing with beginning readers at this time, and she went from being exhausted after reading two sentences to being able to muscle through six before being quite tired.

Over the next 4 months or so, her reading progress really sped up. I don't know how much was due to the glasses versus her maturing cognitive development. With this visual type, some/many children eventually become able to overcome the difficulty and read without any intervention, though it continues to be more tiring than it is for people with "accountant vision," and some people like my MIL find it too tiring to be pleasurable.

DD is now 9 years old, and I fully believe she is now on grade level for reading. Right now she's reading The Sorcerer's Stone. It's not effortless, and she can't read print for more than maybe 30 minutes at a time, but she's definitely reading now! She's still building her fluency, which is to be expected, but it's only the rare word she can't figure out without help.

Now, here are the "indicators" that I see that go along with this visual style.

- Reading tied much more to how she felt than mechanical progress. By that I mean that her ability to read depended entirely on whether she was well rested, in a good mood, in good focus. It had nothing to do with how well she read yesterday, or an hour ago. She also could read a particular word without help, and come across the exact same word two sentences later and have no idea what it said. This happened many times.

- She has more trouble with little words than big ones. Even now that she's a full fledged reader, she trips over "a" and "the" frequently - but reads "encouragement" and "completely" flawlessly.

- She would insert letters/sounds that weren't there in the word - particularly r's. She might also mistake an n for an r, or confuse other letters. This had nothing to do with her not learning her alphabet, this was clearly (to me, at least) visual. An example would be reading "monster" as "morning" - she'd insert an r in "mon" to make "morn" and guess the rest.

- Difficulty with alignment - Aside from reading, this visual style creates difficulties with math, such as lining up 4+ digit numbers to add or subtract or keeping track of long division.

- Difficulty transcribing - Copywork is very difficult for her. With her visual type, looking from the model sentence to where she is writing and back and forth tires her right the heck out. This extends to simpler work such as referring to a word to spell it correctly. Before I understood what was going on, I'd be a little impatient with her asking me how to spell a word that was RIGHT THERE in the question that she was answering.

- Difficulty with other back-and-forth work - Very related to the above, if she had to work back and forth with anything, such as drawing lines to match items in two lists (looking back and forth between two sets of writing), that would often be quite difficult. Or referencing a text book while working in a work book, etc.

- Unable to write in a straight line - If she wrote a sentence on unlined paper it would take a crazy dive. This is related, I believe, to the closed-down peripheral vision when focusing on close work, as she could not see the whole page but only the word she was writing.

And here are the things that worked for DD:

- NO PRESSURE on reading - As I mentioned before, we would keep working on it, but I consciously and purposefully refrained from pushing or criticizing her - "just another sentence," "you just read that very word in the last sentence, why don't you know it now?," etc. I am grateful that we were able to homeschool her, because I know that by third grade there would be a lot of worried conferences with the teacher (and she very well may have been held back already), and just a lot of grief overall. Did I worry? Yes, sometimes I would kind of panic and wonder if I was doing the wrong thing by not getting her "experts" and help. But in my DD's case, she did not have any cognitive problems, the issue wasn't that she needed an expert to teach her how to read properly, she just needed to be old enough to force her eyes to do what doesn't really come naturally to her.

- Audio books and reading to her - I am happy that we kept exposing her to reading in ways that were pleasant to her, and in combination with refraining from pressuring her, this kept her motivation high. I really believe that in other circumstances, she might have come to loathe reading and avoid it for life due to the unpleasant associations. DD's appetite for reading exceeded my ability to read to her (time/voice), and far exceeded her ability to read herself (remember, she was struggling with beginning readers, but she was cognitively far beyond such stories), so audio books were a lifesaver. Even though she is a reader now, she still listens to audio books more than she reads print at this point, and I can see that continuing for the long term for a number of reasons. One reason is that reading print is still tiring for her, and while she wants to read for hours a day, she can't (at least yet). Also, she just is in the habit of listening while doing other things (drawing, playing, picking up her room).

- Practicing in ways that avoided prolonged effort - For example, I would read to her but occasionally point to a word for her to read. She'd be delighted she could read it, but reading one word didn't tire her like reading a sentence - yet it exposed her to the mechanics of decoding. This could be a controversial opinion, and I understand I could be wrong, but I think most kids don't need much teaching at all to read - just exposure to the basics (alphabet and the concept of decoding) and they're off, just like kids basically have to teach themselves how to ride a bike. So I don't think DD needed any special teaching methods, just needed to keep engaged with reading in a way that didn't tire her and wear out her motivation, so that she would be ready to go when the time came. And for sure, when it all came together, it just happened. Looking back, I don't think we needed different teaching methods, just extra time.

- Grid paper for math - DD continues to have difficulty lining up numbers so all the place values match, and she can easily lose her place with things like long division. I printed up some grids for her to use with long division, and another set for adding/subtracting many columns.

- Give her a break, spell words out loud - I just don't make DD look up words right now. If she asks how to spell a word, I just spell it for her verbally (or ask her to take a guess, but I don't make her look it up). I'm sure when she's older, I'll push her to do this work more herself, but I just don't see the use in making a big thing about something that is honestly harder for her. Same with copywork, I just don't have her do it. There is value in copywork for most kids, but in DD's case, that value will be completely drowned by the effort. If DD had a problem with her knee, I would think it reasonable for her to be able to sit out running laps in gym, and I think this is basically the same thing.

- For some kids, ruler or paper to keep track - DD doesn't like this, but I think other kids with her visual type would benefit from using a straightedge of some sort while reading to help keep their place. You know, place the edge under the sentence being read, and the sentences below are blocked out. Move the edge down when you get to the next line. DD does like if I use my finger to help her follow along with what she is reading out loud.

I probably missed some items but I'll post them later if I think of them.

I obviously don't know, but I suspect that this is not an uncommon situation, so I posted this in case the indicators ring a bell for anyone else.

Also, besides my MIL, my husband and his sister have the same visual style. My husband is lucky because he has really "overcome," if that is even the right word, it and can read really well and doesn't tire. His mother and sister both tire even as adults. My husband did not read until he was 10 years old, and that happened under his own motivation (he worked hard that summer to read).

05-29-2015, 10:52 AM
I felt like you were talking about my son when i read this! He is seven and some of this sounds just like him! Thank you so much for writing this because i was honestly starting to worry that we were never going to "get" reading and that i was not doing something right with him! Its like one day he can read a few sentences with very little help and the next two words in and we are having a melt down! He will read a word in one sentence and in the next he acts like he has never seen the same word! Thank you Thank you for the insight!:D:

07-21-2015, 11:10 AM
Grid paper for math - DD continues to have difficulty lining up numbers so all the place values match, and she can easily lose her place with things like long division. I printed up some grids for her to use with long division, and another set for adding/subtracting many columns.

Sorry to bring a dead thread back to life, but I wanted to clarify something I wrote here.

I think ordinary grid paper is actually a bad idea for this kind of issue. There are TOO MANY lines, and most grids are way too small.

What I had meant to say is that I created my own guidelines for DD to use, and print them as needed. The size of the grid blocks are much larger, the lines are much bolder, and the most important thing is that there are no more lines than needed.

One template I made is for long division, and since she is not working with more than 4 digits right now, there are only 4 columns, and the correct number of rows, for each long division area. My template has room for 6 long division problems per page, and there is a good bit of distance between them. So she is not overwhelmed by the number of lines, and there are no unnecessary lines.

If she had problems with those I would have printed out only two per page, and folded the page over in half so only one problem area was visible at a time. But 6 per page works fine for her.

At this point, DD still uses the long division sheets, and she clearly still needs them (she will lose track without them). However, she no longer needs the addition/subtraction sheets to line up 4-digit problems. Also, she can multiply 2-digit numbers without a sheet, but I know she'll need a template when she starts multiplying 3- or 4-digit numbers.

07-21-2015, 11:59 AM
Isnt it great to see the progress, and the payoffs that all the work provide? :)
Im so happy for you that she is reading fluently now, and that you were able to find treatments and accomodations that helped her!