VHG, Education, and Visual Dyslexia

Our VHG (VisionHelp Group) will be meeting at the Hyatt Regency on Clearwater Beach beginning tomorrow afternoon, and on Friday I’ll be missing Aaron Nola’s debut for the Phillies, vs, the Yankees.  Nola is the Phillies top prospect but while he’s on the mound I’ll be engaged in a much broader discussion about the role of Optometry as consultants to Education.  We all know that Optometry as a profession recognizes the influence of vision on the learning process to the extent that is is part and parcel of our Clinical Practice Guidelines.  Reading is, by far, the number one visually related learning problem, and a bill signed into law in 2013 in New Jersey requiring certain public school students to be screened for dyslexia and other reading disabilities is making its way across the country.

One of the difficulties with implementing this type of legislation is that Educators in many parts of the country have largely avoided the use of the term Dyslexia, insisting that is was more of a neurological designation that an educational classification.  Some even denied the condition existed, setting up a Catch-22 resulting in these students falling through the cracks of identification and remediation.  But this legislation can dovetail with screening tests for Dyslexia.


In our practice we have been using TDS (The Dyslexia Screener) introduced by optometrists Griffin, Walton, and Christenson about 25 years ago.  A research study by Maples and colleagues supports the way in which we use the TDS.  It has been increasingly recognized outside of the Education community that Developmental Dyslexia is multifactorial condition, and that visual factors play a significant role – even for something as basic as visual attention.  I’ve blogged a whole bunch about this before, and you can review some of the material on visual aspects of dyslexia here.  In particular I want to highlight the Visual Word Form Area because of the implications of a study that came my way today.


Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.20.34 AM

To quote from the blog, Neurons and Synapses:

The findings not only help reveal how the brain processes words, but also provides insights into how to help people with reading disabilities, says Riesenhuber. “For people who cannot learn words by phonetically spelling them out — which is the usual method for teaching reading — learning the whole word as a visual object may be a good strategy.”

In fact, after the team’s first groundbreaking study on the visual dictionary was published in Neuron in 2009, Riesenhuber says they were contacted by a number of people who had experienced reading difficulties and teachers helping people with reading difficulties, reporting that learning word as visual objects helped a great deal. That study revealed the existence of a neural representation for whole written real words — also known as an orthographic lexicon —the current study now shows how novel words can become incorporated after learning in this lexicon.

“The visual word form area does not care how the word sounds, just how the letters of the word look together,” he says. “The fact that this kind of learning only happens in one very small part of the brain is a nice example of selective plasticity in the brain.”

Sure, we know about Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, and Lindamood-Bell as the primary interventions for developmental dyslexia – many of these approaches, particularly Lindamood-Bell, tapping into visualization.  But after we encourage educators to avail themselves of screening tests for Dyslexia, in accordance with legislation that will continue to advance across the nation, comes the even more difficult job of intervention.  Pattern recognition for word families is often lacking, and that is what the VMFA referenced above is supposed to be busy doing as the child learns.

Two key approaches to maintain balance between sight words and phonics, and build a bridge for dyslexics to cross into reading and fluency will be Phonetic Focus and Fry Inventories.  Here is the blog reference to Phonetic Focus.  As words and word families are mastered, they are transferred into Fry Book Inventories that become a visual diary  of sight words that have been mastered.

Fry Book

Here is a great resource for Fry Sight Words:


… and here are Fry sight words showing up on Pinterest.

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