The story of how Alex Trebek and Jeopardy judges were assailed in some quarters for penalizing a contestant over a spelling error, recently became a “15 minutes of fame” YouTube sensation.
I was reminded of this while working on the evolution of vision therapy for the new blog accompanying my textbook. Arthur Linksz was a well-known ophthalmologist who escaped the scourge of Nazism to join the Dartmouth Eye Institute, specializing in problems related to binocular vision and aniseikonia. You can read an elegant tribute to his life’s work here. A well-kept secret is the book that Linksz authored on writing, reading, and dyslexia. Published in 1973, the text was an outcome of his thoughts based on an invitation in 1969 by Dr. Arthur Jampolsky, then Director of the Smith-Kettlewell Institute of Visual Sciences in San Francisco, to conduct a seminar on the subject of dyslexia. There is a passage on page 3 that warrants highlighting: “Having a reputation as an expert on vision, I see quite a few poor readers, probably more than many of my colleagues. It is certainly not an illogical step on the part of parents and teachers to consult an ophthalmologist. Reading is, after all, an activity involving the eyes, and parents and teachers often hope (often against hope) that what is wrong with the child who is a poor reader is the eyes. Sometimes something is wrong with the eyes, though generally not with eyesight … The children in the last category whom I as an eye specialist have really been able to help generally had trouble with binocular coordination.”
The story that Dr. Linksz shares in this out-of-print book is fascinating, and represents a singular ophthalmologist’s off-label venture. Consider the following: “I have in the past years slowly come to the conclusion that my job as a vision expert has been mostly didactic. I seldom have the opportunity to teach teachers how to teach, but most parents are cooperative and willing to take a hand, Thus over the past ten or fifteen years I have developed a system of spelling comprehension which I have tried to share with parent and child, and which I try to present in the chapters that follow. This system actually grew on me, unplanned, as more and more children with reading problems flocked into my office.”
The system that Dr. Linksz offers was his antidote to the look-say method, and an antecedent to the return to phonics movement. My how the wheel turns! It is very similar to a system followed by the optometrist, Dr. Ken Gibson, in Master the Code. But as Dr. Gibson acknowledges, the best approach to word identification is whichever method an individual child relates to – in other words, don’t be wed to a one-size-fits-all. For example, it has long been known that visualization is a key to effective word identification, and to spelling. Linda Kreger Silverman. Ph.D. has championed the role of visual-spatial abilities as related to spelling, and cautions against shoe-horning visual learners into phonetic rule books. Our colleague, Dr. John Abbondanza, put together a great PowerPoint on this, with attribution to Dr. Elliot Forrest and his application of Visual Imagery to visualization/verbalization and spelling.
While we’re at it, here are some more relevant resources:
Of course, the first AAP/Ophthalmology Joint Policy Statement indicating that the eyes have nothing to do with dyslexia (or learning for that matter) that was issued in 1972 had little bearing to the strong interest that Dr. Linksz, one of Ophthalmology’s most brilliant binocular vision clinicians was taking in teaching his system to patients. Or did it?