At the start of the summer, Dash was seven and a bit and fresh out of first grade. He was reading a little above grade level, but it was a struggle and far more halting and laborious than it should have been. He was comfortably reading books like this:
More tellingly, he never spontaneously read a road sign or a store name. He resisted reading anything we asked him to, though he faithfully did his 20 minutes of homework reading every night, eventually, when all other options had been exhausted. He would blink and say the words had gone blurry after a sentence or so, but he'd persevere. It was painful to listen to.
He began vision therapy in June - two half-hour sessions a week, with a few minutes of "homework" to do every morning and evening in between. It's hard to explain what the therapy consists of - reading and pointing and following arrows and picking out highlighted text and finding letters in order and learning how to focus and unfocus his eyes as if he were doing one of those magic-eye pictures that I can never do. Games and puzzles and things on a computer.
We had a preliminary assessment after six weeks or so, and to be honest at that point I was still ambivalent about how things were going. I couldn't see any change, really, in his homework reading. I felt at that point that the worst outcome would be if his reading improved a little, but nothing really changed much, and if we'd never know whether he'd just caught up late as he was going to do all along or if the therapy helped.
Less than a week later, something changed. He started reading the next level up and stormed through a level-three Ninjago book in a few nights. Words didn't go blurry any more. He was reading paragraphs.
Now he's reading text that looks like this:
He's on his third Magic Treehouse book. He's still reading aloud, and only for his 20-minute mandated time, but if you'd told me when we started this that we'd have reached this point as soon as October, I'd have said all my hopes had come to fruition.
Today he was off school. We were talking about his reading and he said "...and when I'm finished all the Magic Treehouse books, I can read higher-level books and when I'm finished all of those I can start reading about real things."
"You don't have to wait till you've finished all the fiction in the library to read about facts, you know. We have a history book at home."
So he did this:
He read two pages about World War II, asking me what things like N-a-z-i and C-z-e-c-h-o-s-l-... and D-u-n-k-i-r-k spelled, and taking in every word even though his supporting background knowledge and geography are pretty hazy because it's quite an advanced level book of world history.
His handwriting has improved to the point where he's writing essays entitled "Why my writing is so neat." He brought home a report card full of straight A's last week. (This is his first letter-grade report card, so I can't really compare it to previous ones, and I really don't care and don't want to put any pressure on him to stay a straight-A student, but that's a different blogpost.) Last week at a birthday party he willingly read out the list of scavenger hunt items, even though they were in an unfamiliar cursive font.
At Wednesday's session I got talking to another mother. Most of the kids I see at vision therapy are Dash's age or a little older, but this woman's son is in tenth grade, which makes him 15 or so. His deep voice sounds out of place beside my son's piercing trill as they both do their separate exercises with their therapists, around the corner from where I sit and wait.
This mother said they'd spent thousands and tried everything trying to figure out what was going on with her son's reading. He'd bring home A's and B's but his homework was taking seven hours a night. He'd had an IEP (individualized education plan; for children who need extra help while in mainstream schooling due to something like high-functioning autism or ADHD, maybe). Nothing had helped until they discovered vision therapy. She looked at me with hopeful weary eyes and told me we were blessed for finding this now, when Dash is seven, for saving ourselves all those years of struggle. I don't doubt it.
Vision therapy isn't over yet, and today's assessment is to get a better idea of how he's doing and how much more he needs. But I am happy to report that things are looking good. No pun intended.
To read more about Dash's journey with vision therapy, see here or type "vision therapy" into my Search field. If you wonder whether vision therapy would benefit your child, read this very informative page and take a look at the checklist linked at the bottom. We found a qualified developmental optometrist in our area using this search. Feel free to e-mail me if you've any specific questions, though obviously I'm far from an expert.