Daughter Emily showed no interest in books. Following brother Andrew’s early start on reading, I deemed this more typical. Instead, Emily did cartwheels at the age of four and could swim 25 yards before she could bicycle. She was just kinesthetic I told family members. She learned her multiplication tables by clapping and stamping around the dining room table, but would not write them in the workbook. She learned phonics and whole words; I could show her vocabulary cards, link them together, and she would read the whole sentence. Staring at a page in a book, she would tire and prefer to be read-to. Technically she could read the sentence, but not the page.
Was this a Learning Disability? My degree is in Special Education and I continually ran mental tests on her struggles. I grabbed favors from my colleagues to observe and give me feedback. Why could my 6, then 7, then 8 year old “not read.” We tested her vision . . . 20/20. A dyslexia specialist colleague watched her read . . . not dyslexic. Another former colleague and now homeschooling friend checked her for a learning processing disorder, again, no red flags. This went on for a year.
In the mean time we dropped homeschool classes. Emily was taking French from a dear sweet French teacher, who had no patience. Ms. French was incredible for Andrew, but decided that Emily needed to be on Ritalin. Any child that could not sit still for a fifteen minute project had ADHD. Then her orchestra teacher said the same thing. Emily could not sit still in orchestra. Technically, she was sitting still, but she was constantly looking around and head-wiggling to see what everyone else was doing. She memorized the music in one sitting, but she should be able to sit for the hour. Very kinesthetic and very auditory my colleague friends said. Maybe she really was ADHD I thought. But she did not fit any of the other criteria and my colleague friends also shook their heads.
And then she had her vision tested at a little school clinic. The homeschool charter program brought in a vision screener from the big university, and while chatting with a friend during their daughter’s testing, Rachel joined the “game” and failed. She could not make her eyes move from one object to another. She had to move her whole head from left to right, to see all the words on the page. Her eye muscles could not move her eyes to scan. After reading a sentence, she had to drop her head, shift it back to the left and start the next sentence. In the mean time, the large motions would usually lose her place and the story lost its continuity.
We watched and it was so true. Emily had to move her whole head to see anything going on around her. She looked busy all the time (and especially to the French and orchestra teachers.) Her body had to rotate constantly to see what we could see by shifting our eyes. She preferred swimming and dance, because there were no balls to scan for. She never played with puzzles, Legos or the doll house, because it was exhausting to scan with the whole head. Emily loved dress up and playing “house” with life-size furnishings. It all made sense.
What did this mean for us? More testing and a search for answers. After 8 weeks of Vision Therapy at the clinic and at home, Emily graduated. Around three months of continued practice, she was reading Magic Treehouse books. It was amazing to see.
Knowing the red-tape for public school, which was not created by the teachers, a diagnosis like this, would have been swept aside, or slowly assessed. It’s the way the institution has to work; I’ve been in the middle of red-tape, wanting magical scissors to cut through it all and work with the child. I am thankful we caught this “early” and did not spend years accelerating from grade to grade, with a non-reader.
For Emily, she still loves her books on tape, but she loves to read books. It took awhile before she was in the habit to grab a book. She has played catch up and gone back to read all of the early readers and finds them so funny. Her playdates with friends has changed, she how understands why dolls can be fun, or a puzzle, or painting. Even outdoors has changed for her, as she can catch a frisbee and she can bicycle without crashing (we take for granted that we scan for cars with just our eyes!).
And most happily, Emily loves that she can dance and see everything happening from anywhere on the dance floor. No more head wiggling to follow her dance partners placement.