||READING & DYSLEXIA
Reading Problems and Dyslexia
One of the most complete American dictionaries, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged defines "dyslexia" as simply "a disturbance of the ability to read."
This disturbance is not explained by poor intelligence and it is not explained by poor teaching. Quite simply, dyslexia is an unexplained reading problem which spills over into spelling and writing. "Reading Disability" is just another term for the same problem.
At Cook Vision Therapy Center, approximately 80 percent of our patients come to us because of struggles with reading problems or dyslexia. But what does dyslexia have to do with abilities listed on the " 7 Visual Abilities" web page?
Usually when we think of the word, dyslexia, we think of "seeing things backwards," seeing was for saw or d for b, for example. Actually, dyslexics make such mistakes no more frequently than they make other mistakes such as leaving out words or changing words. Peolple with dyslexia make all kinds of reading errors. And it's no wonder.
All too often these unexplained reading problems are related to undiagnosed problems with the "7 Visual Abilities." To understand this, let's look at a passage from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as it might appear to someone with an eye-muscle coordination problem:
Now let's reread this passage without the visual interference, with the print stable, not blurring and running together or moving out of order.
If we study the first, distorted paragraph again, we can, with effort, figure out the words; they are all there, although some have slipped out of order, as they sometimes do for readers with eye-muscle coordination problems. But if we always had to struggle this way when reading, the amount of work would very rapidly tire us out, and we would want to do anything else but further reading.
And how about phonics, the ability to match letters with there sounds? How would an eye muscle problem affect phonics? Suppose a reader has been taught all the sounds of the letters A, C, F, I, T, and SH. Now, suppose you show the reader the word CATFISH and the reader sees the C A T and guesses "CATSUP." How can the reader know all the letter sounds easily and not recognize them when they are in a word?
Well first of all, the reader has to be able to accurately aim his eyes at each of the letters making the five sounds. In other words, the reader needs good "eye movement ability." Secondly, the reader needs to be able to see without the letters "dancing." For instance, if the reader focuses his attention of the word hard enough to see the individual letters, they may run together:
Rather than have to confront this mess, the reader finds it easier to look at just the first letter or letters and guess.
For the child or adult who understands easily when being read to, and who can already sound out words, and who reads well for a sentence or two and then rapidly fatigues and loses comprehension, vision therapy, all by itself, can make an immediate and significant improvement in reading ability.
But what about readers who are still struggling to learn how to recognize words?
Of those with "unexplained" reading problems there are a number who have a difficulty matching the letters to their sounds. Sometimes children can't hear the letter sounds; some school curriculums don't cover which letters match which sounds. Other times, however, these readers are missing another visual ability as well. They have difficulty with "Visual Tracking" the ability to look scan across a row of symbols, remember what to call them, and get the sounds out of their mouths.
In sounding out the word CAT, such beginning readers have to struggle to get out the correct C sound, struggle to get out the correct A sound and struggle to get out the T sound. By the time the struggle is over, too much time has passed to be able to blend the three letter sounds into the word CAT.
These readers have to work so hard at decoding the words that the effort triggers the eye-muscle coordination problem we've already discussed, and now the reader has to sound out the word with the print "dancing," blurring or running together. The effort is too much. Readers who have problems with visual tracking cannot get by with "average" eye-muscle coordination. They need "exceptional" eye-muscle coordination to compensate for the difficulty sounding out words.
What happens if the eye-teaming difficulties are not eliminated? Many readers with "unexplained" reading problems will be placed in special classes where the same techniques which didn't work the first time will be repeated in a small group setting and the reader will fall further behind. If the such readers are lucky, they will receive special placement in settings where VISION is bypassed. Oversized print will be used. The reader will taught by an approach in which other senses take the place of the poorly functioning eyes.
In these programs, letters and words are written large and traced with a finger. Or the sounds are listened to, spoken out loud and then written. Or the student is taught to recognize the feel of his tongue, lips, and mouth as the words are broken down into their sounds. Teaching sessions are shortened to accommodate the reader's inability to sustain.
Once the reading program is completed if no steps have been left out the reader may be able to decode words. However, even though the reader can now figure out the words, poor eye -muscle coordination can still cause the reader to tire out, especially when the print is smaller. The child or adult who can read large print or words on flashcards, but rebels when asked to read smaller print in a paragraph, or automatically closes the book when the print is smaller, almost always has difficulty with eye-muscle coordination.
If such vision problems are corrected in the first place, these children can learn with a standard reading program which teaches phonics, the common sight words and their meanings. Once earlier missing skills are filled in, such children will begin to reach their true potential.
In summary, a program of vision therapy can allow a reader with an "unexplained" reading problem to begin to respond to good teaching. And if that reader can already decode words, then vision therapy can turn a labored reader into one who has the eye-muscle coordination to become a fluent reader.