Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vision and Reading

Last summer, I read a textbook about Reading Assessment.  It was extremely dry and treated children like robots rather than children.  It made me consider the state of education and testing in schools today.  In putting so much emphasis on the results of testing, we are turning our children into statistics--instead of what they are--human beings.  It was very interesting because one point the author made is that the break for a child can be at multiple points in the reading process.  It was amazing to realize how the reading process can be broken down.  

The simple view was where theorists started in the 1980s by stating that reading comprehension (R) down into the product of decoding (D) and linguistic comprehension (C).  Now, there are more complex models. Hollis S. Scarborough's rope model used breaks down the process into language comprehension and word recognition.

Language comprehension includes:
Background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge

Word recognition includes:
Phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition.

Reading is a very complex process.  Understanding these models helped me understand where the breaks in processing can occur.

One interesting thing that I began to realize when my girls were learning to read was that I could pay more attention to what was clicking and what wasn't because I was working one on one with my girls.  When I was teaching in the classroom, I worked with groups of 5-6 students at a time.  We used the whole language method of teaching reading.  But, I have learned so much more about how children read since I left the classroom than while I was in it.  And one thing that I've become very convinced of is that when it comes to reading, children are not a statistic nor are they a variable in a plug and chug formula.  Each child is an individual.

But, where does that leave us if our child is struggling to learn to read or struggling to recognize the alphabetic symbols--the letters?  I think we usually jump to the process--we conclude that there must be an issue with a child's ability to learn or the program we're using.

But, I think the place to start is with a child's vision.  In this post, I'm going to focus on vision and the brain.  I'll talk about reading programs in another post.  In school, children have their vision checked every year.  As homeschoolers, we often don't realize that this is a good thing to do as well.  So, start with vision.  Can your child see correctly?  A child's vision continues to develop until they are 8 years old.  This is one reason that it is not preferable to teach very young children to read.  They can have a more difficult time with letter reversals simply because their vision hasn't developed.

I've been told by a vision therapist and eye doctors that letter reversals aren't a serious concern until a child is 8 years old and they aren't going away.  Many children do have letter reversals that eventually go away by age 8.  After age 8 is when medical professionals become concerned.  If you are wondering how parents know that children need glasses at an early age, several of the signs are frequent headaches, squinting, not seeing things far away, inability to focus on surroundings, frequent blinking...

If a child's vision is on track, but there are other vision issues, then vision therapy might be an option.  My brother went through vision therapy when he was in kindergarten.  Vision therapy is used to help train or retrain one's eyes.  The statistical evidence is mixed.  But, I know that my brother benefited.  Both my father and brother have mixed dominance (as does my son).  My parents saw a drastic improvement in his ability to read and learn.  If there's a question of whether it could help, I think it's worth investigating.  Locally here in Maryland, I was referred to Dr. Diane (  If you have any questions about vision therapy, just contact her via the website.  I contacted her two years ago when Eli was 2 and she called me on the phone right away.  I was impressed by her encouragement to not worry and wait to see if there would be issues with Eli when he began to read.

When I talk to parents about reading, I first ask whether their child's vision has been checked.  The second question I ask is whether the child is left handed.  This sounds like an odd question, but almost unanimously when I ask if a child is left handed, there has been a delay.  It has taken that child longer than their other children to learn to read.  My theory is that our brains process things differently.  Here's a site with a bit of interesting info:   I did also just order a book on left-handed children and I'll post soon about what I learn.

After considering vision, there can also be a break in a child's visual processing.  One of the therapies parents can do at home that has been developed to help children is Brain Integration Therapy (BIT).  Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP, has written a book called the Brain Integration Therapy Manual.  It is very interesting.  Ms. Craft identifies four gates that information can get blocked at as it is trying to be processed by the brain.  They are the visual processing, visual/motor, auditory processing, and attention/focusing/behavior gates.  She identifies characteristics of learners who have each gate blocked.  I found this section very interesting, as well as her discussion of right and left brain learners.  From my own observations and discussions with friends, I definitely believe that there is something to this theory.

One of the veteran homeschoolers in my area conducted a semester class for middle/high schoolers with this program.  Over the course of the semester, students and parents saw a huge improvement in the students' handwriting.  She highly recommends this program for learners struggling with penmanship, reading, and writing.  This program can help students with processing problems.

I had intended to use this program with my girls, but it is time intensive.  My girls don't have major issues with their writing, reading, and processing.  My son is left handed, but he is not reading yet, so I can't use it yet.  But, because of friends' experiences and what I've observed with children, I wanted to post this review now in case this program might help someone.  

This program is for readers who recognize the letters and can form them.  So, I wouldn't consider it until your child is at least 5 years old.  If your child only shows mild reversals (which are normal), I would wait until your child is 8 years old.  If he or she is still experiencing difficulties then, then I would definitely recommend trying this program if you think he or she might benefit from it.  On her website under the About tab, there is a place where you can contact her.  If you have questions after looking at her website, please email her and ask if she thinks brain integration therapy would benefit your child.  That's what I'd do.  

If you go to Sylvan or Huntington, they are going to recommend a wrote sight word/phonics program at a very high cost.  Before you go that route, try this one.  Even though the manual is almost $60, it is much cheaper than the private tutoring alternative.  

This is a program that you have to be committed to.  It takes several months to see an improvement.  But, so would tutoring (which also requires gas, transportation and reinforcing the teaching at home).  And I think if the difficulties that your child has with reading fall into the processing gates Ms. Craft identifies, then BIT is worth seriously considering.  

Parents have long been puzzled about how to help their children with dysgraphia and dyslexia.  I have a penmanship program titled Write from the Start, which is now out of print.  That program has similar exercises for fine motor to BIT, which is aimed at both gross motor and fine motor skills.  When someone has a brain injury, they have to relearn how to do something.  It makes sense that when a child has a break in how they process information, their brain has to be retrained in how to process that information correctly.  Occupational therapy is based upon this premise.  

I have a friend who's son had dysgraphia, a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding, and finger sequencing.  Dysgraphia often overlaps other learning disabilities and breaks in processing.  After several years, she was finally able to get him approved for occupational therapy.  When I listened to her describe the exercises he was doing, I realized that they mirrored the type of repetitive movements in BIT and in Write from the Start.  

If you're interested in Ms. Crafft's program, you can read more about it and order it from her website:  I first learned about her program from HSLDA.  If you are interested specifically in a writing program for dyspraxia or difficulties with handwriting, Lois Addy has written several resources for dyspraxia.  Among them are a book titled "Speed Up!" and the program I have, "Write from the Start".

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of the Brain Integration Therapy Manual for review from Dianne Craft.  

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