How embedded is your dys-ability? Is it something you should embrace as a gift? After all, if being weak in some skills such as reading makes you exceptional in other areas – would you want to take the chance of improving your weaknesses if it meant lessening your strengths? This possibility is implied in the general movement that has evolved over the past few years of championing a variety of dys-abilities as gifts. The one that has received the most widespread attention in dyslexia, but the notion could theoretically apply to any of the dys-es, including dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and dysgraphia. I was therefore intrigued yesterday to receive this facebook page entry:
“So proud of my son K.E.! His drawing has taken off this year – long battle with dysgraphia. Below this pic is his 1st grade writing: “I’m depresed…I can’t draw on my own. It is sad.” Today he said, “Now I can’t stop drawing!”
Well, as you can plainly see, that is an amazing transformation! Imagine going from print that is barely legible to a drawing with remarkable detail and depth of feeling. How did he do it? Two years of occupational therapy during which his therapist strengthened his upper body to improve stability while writing, followed by activities to develop the hand muscle strength needed for writing by hand. Even though this young man still prefers typing to writing by hand, his dysgraphia is no longer an impairment.
Krister is fortunate to have exceptional parents who did not allow him to be held back by his inability to draw. Instead they undertook therapy, yielding small steps at a time to improve motor control, and worked from accuracy toward automaticity. I believe the same philosophy that applies to dysgraphia can and should be applied to dyslexia. Indeed, that is the approach undertaken by developmental optometrists when there is a visual component to a specific child’s reading disability.
There is a great book available from Abigail Marshall on Dyslexia that serves as a guide to parents in this regard. It has been one of my favorites since its original edition in 2004, and the second edition has just been published. Just prior to a discussion on the positive characteristics of dyslexia, Ms. Marshall has a concise overview of vision problems. She writes: “Dyslexia is not caused by vision problems, but good vision is important to reading development.” After identifying vision problems that can have a significant impact on learning, along with their signs and symptoms, she concludes: “It is a good idea to arrange a thorough optometric examination for your child by age three to determine whether her vision is developing normally, whether or not you suspect a problem. If you are concerned about your child’s vision development, it is best to arrange an appointment with a board-certified developmental optometrist who specializes in evaluating and correcting these types of vision problems.”
Parents are understandably confused when they hear that reading problems are phonologic problems, and when they read that vision has little if anything to with reading abilities or disabilities. In fact, the Eides address hidden vision problems in writing about stealth dyslexia, and give a fine overview of the role of vision in the “dys-es” here. In their neurolearning blog, the Eides tackle sources of misinformation about vision and vision therapy directly. You have to dig a bit more for information about optometric vision therapy in the Eides’ Dyslexic Advantage book and site, but good information about undoing vision con-fusion is there. The information from Abigail in her section on Vision Processing reinforces the relevance of vision:
“Your child’s ability to read begins with the task of focusing on letters on the page. Disturbances in vision or the way that her brain processes visual information will impede her ability to learn. Dyslexia is not a result of vision problems, but vision issues can stand in the way of progress for many children with dyslexia.
Vision processing difficulties can impair your child’s ability to focus on print, as well as her ability to shift focus from one word to the next. Your child may experience blurred vision, eye strain, headaches, or double vision when reading. She may frequently lose her place, omit words, close one eye, or show difficulty reading for long. These vision problems are correctable, sometimes with specialized lenses or prisms or with specific exercises and practice geared to help your child learn to use her eyes effectively.”
There is an eye-opening interview with Abigail about dyslexia in Spin Education that you can access here. Take a look at page six of the transcript for some very insightful comments about how stress makes the perceptual distortions altering the appearance of print worse, so that being told just to bear down, try harder, or look again adds to the emotional difficulties which in turn degrades the appearance of the print even further. Powerful stuff.