Getting Your Eyes Checked

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In late 2005 and early 2006, I engaged in "vision therapy" with a specialized developmental or behavioral optometrist. I wrote about my experiences in the midst of them. This past week, several Sonlighters said they had listened to my advice back then and were exceptionally grateful I had called certain things to their attention. They encouraged me, therefore, to write about the same issues again.

I am more than happy to do so. Especially because the results of my time with the developmental optometrist were–and continue to be–so significant to me.

In sum: the developmental optometrist pointed out something I have never realized before. Static eye exams may ignore some really debilitating eye problems. If your son or daughter is having difficulty with reading, it may not be a problem associated with his or her ability to see clearly (the kinds of measurements that show up on standard phoropter tests). [The phoropter is the machine eye doctors set in front of you and flip lenses around and say, "Is this better, or is this?"] It may have everything to do with eye coordination and eye-brain connections–what we may call "perceptual ability."

So you can understand, let me tell you my story.

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For years I knew "something" was wrong with my eyes. I could never define exactly what bothered (or bothers) me. However, I knew, from my internal sense about these things, that I read very slowly. Not as slowly as some. But I have always sensed I read way more slowly than I'd prefer. And no matter what techniques I used to try to raise my speed, my comprehension always tended to fall rapidly. I had to read slowly or I couldn't understand what I was reading.

Something else that "SHOULD" have been a clue, but I never paid attention: for years I had noticed that I couldn't read for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time before I wanted to fall asleep. I don't mean merely feeling tired. I mean, reading just about literally "knocked me out." I'd fall asleep in mid-sentence when reading to our kids when they were still at home and we would read together as a family.

When I went to see the developmental optometrist, we talked for a while about the kinds of symptoms I was experiencing. He asked about headaches, about seeing double, about symptoms typical of dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and other such behavioral and/or perceptual issues.
I could not say anything about these other areas. All I knew is the two symptoms I mentioned above.

After giving me a standard eye exam, he hooked me up to a VisaGraph, which tracked my eye movements as I read . . . and it tracked each eye INDIVIDUALLY.

The VisaGraph tests–we did two of them–were most enlightening.
Here's what they told us: my left eye fixated (stopped to focus on a portion of text) more often than my right eye did.

And I went back to re-read something I’d already read (called a reversion) more times with my left eye than my right.

Eyes Not Tracking Correctly

You may wonder: "How could your LEFT eye fixate more often than the right? And how could the left eye revert more often than the right?"

Well, in a graphical printout of my eye movements, the left eye always moved where it needed to go in order to see whatever it was I needed to see. Every now and then, however, my right eye would simply "go blind." It would quit "looking" . . . or seeing. The graph of the left eye would show distinct and measured movements; the right eye would simply stop moving, or move far less than the left eye. . . .

Rather eerie to see!

But the upshot of all of this: my eyes, though functioning okay ON THEIR OWN or when asked to look at a static object, do not work well TOGETHER.

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Dr. Manniko, my behavioral optometrist, explained that there's more to a good eye exam than static tests of each eye, individually. About 20% of the U.S. population suffers from significant problems in binocular (two-eye) convergence: we can't get our eyes to work well together. . . . And I and my two sons all suffer from these kinds of difficulties. A regular exam shows the optometrist how to correct our vision so each eye sees 20-20; but we still have problems because the two eyes don't cooperate well together.

When I wrote about this almost two years ago, I received a number of letters from Sonlighters who confirmed what Dr. Manniko had told me, what I had experienced, and what I was reading on the internet.
So how can you tell if your son or daughter is suffering from some kind of convergence issues?

ADD/ADHD . . . or Eye Difficulties?
Disobedience and Rebelliousness . . . or Eye Difficulties?
Carelessness and Sloth . . . or Eye Difficulties?

Please pay attention to the following

"Symptom Checklist" of potential eye problems . . . that your regular optometrist may be overlooking

Even if your regular optometrist has told you several times over that your child's [or your] eyes are perfectly fine: They may not be fine if you, your son or daughter experience the following symptoms:

1. Temporary effects

  • Blurred distance vision (chalkboard or across room) especially after doing desk work or using the computer
  • Occasional blurring of near vision
  • Occasional double vision at distance or near
  • Print or words sometimes appear to float or move on the page

2. Discomfort associated with reading, desk work or using a computer

  • Headaches
  • Eye rubbing
  • Eye fatigue or "strain"
  • General, overall fatigue
  • Eyes Red, Watery or Burning

3. Adaptations and postural adjustments during desk or computer work

  • Covers or closes one eye or lays head on arm while reading or writing (thus occluding one eye so it cannot see the paper).
  • Moves head or uses finger to keep place while reading
  • Gets too close to paper during reading or writing
  • Tilts or turns head during reading or writing
  • Excessively "wiggly" during reading or desk work

4. Has little interest in or enjoyment of reading

  • Short attention span for reading
  • Dislikes or avoids reading
  • Fatigue or sleepiness with reading

5. Difficulty with reading comprehension

  • Sub-vocalizes while reading or writing
  • Reading comprehension reduces as reading continues
  • Slow reader or takes too long to complete homework

6. Makes "careless" errors when reading or writing or appears clumsy

  • Skips small words when reading or miscalls similar words
  • Difficulty working with columns of numbers or staying on lines when writing
  • Loses place easily or skips or re-reads lines
  • Makes errors or excessively slow when copying
  • Spills things at table or bumps or trips over things
  • Letter or number transpositions or reversals
  • Poor handwriting
  • Appears clumsy or careless
  • Difficulty hitting or catching a ball

Please. Let me note. These symptoms may seem weird, but if they come from the eyes, you will be extremely happy to find the source of the problem and to get it taken care of.

Along those lines, let me relate the story that Sandie Herr, a homeschooling mom of eight children (age 26 to 5-years-old) told me.

She said their oldest son "was in a private Christian school for kindergarten and first grade. By the end of 1st grade he was a year and three months behind in reading but a year ahead in math. He was young for the grade but big for his age and emotionally mature, so holding him back wasn't a good solution. We had him tested and his IQ was fairly high. We decided to school him and his older sister for a year at home."

After a year, I knew there was something not right for my son but I didn't know what. We took him to an educational psychologist for testing. Besides some learning difficulties and short term memory issues he also noted a red flag on his eye test–a 3-D type of test. He sent us to a developmental optometrist.

We had a 1 1/2 hour testing session and a two-hour conference on what was wrong with my son's eyes developmentally (20-20 vision) including:

  • shutting the vision off from one eye completely,
  • failing to be able to track from the end of one line to the start of the other– (he either reread the same line, went back a line, or skipped a line),
  • seeing double, and
  • having his eyes hit at two different spots when shifting from close work to, say, a blackboard, and then having his brain work to bring the images together.

He was working so hard with his eyes that his brain couldn't concentrate on what he was reading. I would ask him questions on what he had just read aloud to me and he couldn't answer me.

He went for eye vision training once a week for two years to retrain his eyes. He also wore glasses to help aid his focusing during most of that time but not since. It was the best thing we did for him. . . . Having this great experience, you would think that we would be extra aware of this type of problem with our other children. Unfortunately, we weren't and our third child a daughter struggled thru her years of schooling with great difficulty. She was such a great athlete and gifted artistically but also had some learning difficulties that we thought schoolwork would just be harder for her. She didn't test well (a red flag we now know) although orally she excelled. We had a reading specialist help her in high school as she struggled to handle the harder reading workload. That helped somewhat. But she also struggled with constant headaches in high school and college and had difficulty concentrating on reading for more than five minutes at a time without her eyes unfocusing or looking elsewhere. When our seventh child, our third and final daughter, started school, things did not go well from the start. It was obvious she too had some learning difficulties although she was a bright child (she had memorized more than two dozen books word perfect so that you thought she was reading them before she was two). We struggled through kindergarten, first grade, and partly through second before I "gave-up" and cried out for help. I just didn't know what was wrong but we were both often in tears over her schoolwork and frustrated. My search dead-ended several times before I took advantage of a free testing evaluation by Success Labs, a tutorial service in our area. I thought I would at least get some information to be able to know where to look for help. It turned out to be a huge blessing. They, too, saw a red flag on an eye test and recommended the same developmental eye doctor's office my son had used fifteen years ago located several towns away. At the conference after her testing session, much of what we talked about also rang some bells for our older daughter, now 20. We had her tested, too. Both of them are now in eye vision training once a week and we are seeing improvement although it is still in the early stages.

While working with Dr. Manniko, I saw these same effects demonstrated many times over.

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More later!

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