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Young boy struggling with reading

Vision Enters the Picture

By Rodney Everson • Updated Jul 29th, 2023

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The phonics training I took, the results I was getting in practice, and the reading I did in 1998 and early 1999 convinced me that Diane McGuinness was right. The reason children were failing to learn to read was because they weren’t being taught the phonics they needed or, if taught, they were being taught ineffectively.

In search of a client base, I sought out professionals who encountered poor readers. In La Crosse, Wisconsin we have long had a business known as the Family Vision Center, run at the time by Dr. Richard Foss and Dr. Ann Wonderling. Both are optometrists with extensive additional training in vision therapy. Soon after opening my OnTrack Reading office, I learned that many parents were taking their children to the Family Vision Center to determine if subtle vision problems were causing their children's reading problems.

Dr. Foss and I arranged to meet one evening early in the year 2000. He explained in some detail how certain vision issues might cause a child to have trouble learning to read, while I countered that research indicated that most poor readers need explicit phonics instruction. This was my second exposure to the field of vision therapy, incidentally. When I was trained in Phono-Graphix in Florida, the authors of Reading Reflex explained that sometimes a child suffered from certain undiagnosed vision issues. They would, in those cases, refer the child to a local vision therapy department before proceeding with phonics instruction.

Ironically, Diane McGuinness, the parent of one of the authors, wrote in Why Our Children Can’t Read that extensive research had proven that vision problems were not a root cause of reading problems. This is an issue I will return to at the end of this story.

I left the meeting with one overriding impression. Dr. Foss felt that every poor reader should be evaluated to see if vision therapy was indicated, whereas I felt that every poor reader should be evaluated to see if phonics instruction was indicated. Furthermore, neither of us felt that the other’s services would be needed all that often if our own advice were just followed, though we each were willing to allow that there might occasionally be such a need.

In hindsight, and with the benefit of several years of experience working with nearly 200 poor readers most of whom might qualify for the dyslexia label, I have concluded that Dr. Foss was closer to the truth at that meeting than I was. In fact, I now am convinced that every first or second grader who is struggling to learn to read should at least be evaluated by a developmental optometrist.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Next I’ll tell you about a boy I’ll call David.

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