Vision Therapy….It’s a thing.

Cora will finish second grade in four weeks(ish)! I get to say “ish” because I decide when she’s actually done. And we actually don’t stop school in the summer…it just looks different.

We have been homeschooling our children since day one—and there are so many things I love about homeschooling! I love the sibling relationships, researching curriculum and organizing our space, freedom to travel and have school outside of the schoolroom, the opportunity to let each child’s interest help direct our educational decisions, time to learn life skills and to play outside with friends, teaching as a team with my husband, etc.

There are also a number of things that are exasperating….like the sibling relationships, the constant mess, juggling different ages and life events, self-doubt, critique on our educational choice, difficulty in establishing routine, balancing work and home and school, practicing self-discipline in schedule and priority.

But there has been another element that has made this homeschooling journey particularly difficult. Our eldest daughter is bright, learns concepts easily, and is very motivated in many ways. She has picked up easily on decoding words, pours over piles of books, has excellent comprehension from read-alouds, understands the concepts behind addition/subtraction and place value, and has been begging to learn cursive for some time.

However, in the middle of second grade, she could not read with fluency and had no visual memory for words—even when they were repeated in the same paragraph. She begged to write on the first grade writing paper (wide-spaced)—and still had poor print. She struggled in tears over basic addition and subtraction, and could not line up columns of numbers. When asked to read, her entire body would be rigid and she was ready to give up before the first sentence was read. Our intended electives—piano and Spanish—were near impossible.

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I spent my mornings working through our curriculum and bouncing between the three children. Abigail finished her kindergarten work quickly—and Gabriel was allowed to finish whenever he was ready (he’s three). For Cora, simple assignments turned into all-day events. After I put the younger two to bed each evening, I spent another one to two hours teaching my eldest to read. We made (almost) no progress. I needed help!

Thankfully, Cora did not seem to feel the desperation I did. While she attended a weekly co-op and various other activities, it did not seem to cross her mind to compare her progress with that of her peers. She just knew that everything felt too hard and she was losing confidence fast.

After talking to some veteran home-schooling moms, I decided to take her to an eye doctor. I was very skeptical, as I had already taken her to an eye doctor who had no concerns about her vision. But my friends recommended a different eye doctor—a doctor that specialized in learning-related vision problems. I couldn’t imagine he would find anything that would account for our struggles. And I didn’t dare hope for fear of disappointment.

We waited two months to get in. On the day of the appointment, Cora bounced happily into the office (she bounces happily into most places), completed an evaluation on the computer, and Dr. Kimmich began presenting her with various visual challenges. He tested her visual acuity, but also started running through a number of other baffling tests. After less than five minutes, he glanced my way and said, “You are in the right place.”

I fought back the tears.

He continued playing eye games with her for a few minutes and then informed me he was not going to complete the exam. She had failed every one of the tests and could not even complete a few of them. He told me she definitely needed glasses (to correct visual acuity), but her primary issue was an eye movement disorder. Apparently her eye muscles were not working properly.

We picked up the glasses two days later and he instructed us to let her eyes relax with the glasses for a couple weeks before starting vision therapy.

Vision therapy. Apparently that’s a thing. I am a physician assistant—I order physical therapy, massage therapy, injection therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. But I had never heard of vision therapy.

After one day of adjustment, Cora loved her glasses. She did not want to take them off. Two weeks later we returned for the enigmatic vision therapy. They ran through some tests again and then taught us some exercises involving reading lines of letters and numbers, visually “running the bases” around a board with blocks of letters, and holding a lens over her eyes intermittently as she read simple paragraphs.

We did it every day, documenting our efforts as we went and returning every couple weeks to check her progress and learn more exercises and games. It still seemed quite strange. But, stranger still, it was working!

When we started vision therapy, Cora was over halfway done with second grade, yet struggling through books at an early first grade level. After three months of therapy, she was reading at grade level. She was no longer tense and in tears—but relaxed and eager to learn. She could line up columns of numbers in math. Addition and subtraction (while still annoying to her) were manageable—even to the 10,000s. Her handwriting improved dramatically and we started learning cursive (at her request). We have even picked up piano and Spanish since we don’t have to fight through the core subjects. She is now able to recognize notes on a staff and track them as she plays simple tunes.

When we go to the library, I no longer have to direct Cora to the “orange and dark blue dots” on the early reader books—she can read any of them! Now I just have to limit her stack of books to something we can physically carry back up the hill to our house….

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We still do vision therapy—and will probably have to continue for some time. Dr. Kimmich recommends that all children do it—even if they don’t have a specific disorder. Cora doesn’t love our sessions, but she is faithful to do it because she knows it works. Abigail and Gabriel will be doing some of these exercises over the years as well.

I love the confidence that she is re-gaining. As we were driving a few weeks ago, she was reading The Gruffalo to her siblings in the back seat. When she finished, she sighed happily and said, “Mommy, those eye exercises and these glasses really work. Without them, I would still be struggling on the first page!”

If you want some more information on learning-related vision problems including ADHD/dyslexia, go to Dr. Kimmich’s website: http://www.rkcrt.com    (And, even better, he’s a UGA grad.)