Shortly after my meeting with Dr. Richard Foss, one of his vision therapists began referring an occasional patient to me for help with phonics. The vision therapists do regular reading with their patients during the course of therapy and can usually tell when one of them is having trouble understanding phonics, and so the Family Vision Center became a source of clients for me.
Then came David. His parents were referred to me by a teacher of one of my earlier clients. David (not his real name) had finished third grade and his parents were concerned with his reading skills. After testing his phonics skills and knowledge, as well as his level of word recognition, I felt that he would be a relatively easy client. But then I listened to him read.
David read with relative accuracy for a short time, then began slowing down. He began to make more and more errors. Finally, he became frustrated and started sobbing, at which point his mother told me that this was typical behavior. My notes from that day indicate that I suspected he was not getting sufficient practice due to his reluctance to read. He did fine on the rest of the lesson plan, just not on the reading demonstration.
At the next lesson I noted that David fidgeted and his eyes watered as he read and speculated that it could be due to some sort of anxiety. For the first time, however, I made a note to contact one of the vision therapists in the near future. As for my assumption that he lacked practice, I was told that he had been constantly timed by stopwatch at school to increase his fluency.
At the fifth lesson I noted in my records that David said letters seem to move around the page at times. I also noted that he was getting progressively more stressed as he read, and was always bobbing his head when reading. He also had poor eye-hand coordination, especially regarding his handwriting which was quite poor.
Meanwhile, we were trying everything. Get more rest before coming to the sessions. Stop drinking the can of soda pop prior to coming. Have Mom wait outside the room in case some sort of family dynamic was causing his frustration. Read more stories at his comfort level. Play a game to encourage him to stop guessing at unfamiliar words. Play yet another game to encourage him to accurately read the simple words he often misread. And I added another note for the vision therapist: "David rocks back and forth and yawns every paragraph or so when reading."
By the eighth lesson David was doing well with the actual curriculum, but I was still noting: "Reading remains very challenging for David. He yawns, slows down as he goes and gets just plain worn out after two to three pages."
So, David became the first client whom I referred to Dr. Foss. It was hard for me to do because I had no experience with vision therapy. I warned the parents that they might be wasting their money by taking my advice because I’d never sent a client there before and didn’t know what to expect. But my conversations with one of the vision therapists made me realize that David might indeed be experiencing some sort of vision problem.
In retrospect, it should have been an easy referral. Today, I would rather not even work with a client like David until the parents have at least had an assessment done by a developmental optometrist. In the the notes cited above David exhibited many obvious symptoms of an untreated vision problem, as I soon learned.
Next, I’ll describe David’s vision problem, and how he did following vision therapy.