In the article Survey: Genetics Does Influence Reading Ability, I discussed my survey of parents of children being considered for vision therapy. At the time, most parents found vision therapy by asking what they could do for their child's reading issues. As a result, the parents I was surveying had a child struggling with reading.
You can read the results in the article itself but, summarizing, when asked about a family history of reading issues, over 90% stated that reading problems ran in the family.
So What’s Going On? Is there a Bad Reading Gene?
I think we’ll eventually find that there is no reading gene responsible for poor reading. Instead, we'll find a gene (or some combination of genes) that affects child development unfavorably and one way it does so is to cause a delay, either temporary or permanent, in the development of normal visual skills, and possibly other developmental skills as well. The gene is either absent or turned off in most kids, but when this gene, or combination of genes, is active, your child’s vision skills will not develop normally and that is what will cause, or at least contribute to, his reading problem.
If he has a great phonics education and doesn’t get beat up too much by the system during his early years he might even learn to read, but he’ll tend to avoid it because the act of reading makes him uncomfortable visually.
I’ve known class valedictorians with vision problems that made them uncomfortable but who managed to excel because they got proper reading instruction at the outset and were encouraged to work twice as hard as everyone else for thirteen years of schooling. That’s doing it the hard way, but it can be done and it no doubt built a great work ethic.
But Is It Dyslexia?
Here’s how I think you can decide if your child is dyslexic. Let’s assume that your child was (or is now) an otherwise normal six-year-old who seemed to struggle to learn to read compared with his or her classmates. If you had an older child already go through school without a problem, or a younger child who passed the older one by with little effort, the difference in abilities will have been obvious. And, if you or your spouse had the same thing happen to you, or to a couple of your brothers and sisters, your child is likely to exhibit enough symptoms to be considered dyslexic.
But what does that menacing word, dyslexia, mean if I’m correct? Here’s what it means to me, based on my personal experience with a couple hundred children. Your child inherited a genetic condition that, among other things, causes a vision problem that interferes with learning to read. About ten to fifteen percent of your child’s classmates are in the same boat, by the way. Fortunately, you can do something about it.
If you're already to the point where you're seeking help for a child having reading problems, start with my article Find a Vision Therapy Provider where you will also find more articles on vision therapy. But if you're wondering about the future of your baby or preschooler, or even of a future baby, please read up on some of the nutritional issues discussed here. Diet and Dyslexia: Cause and Effect would be a good place to start.
Still a Long Road Ahead
I can’t close this section without cautioning you that a lot of time, effort and expense still lies ahead of you and that the ultimate outcome still might not be satisfactory. And remember, despite what I’ve said here relating dyslexia and vision skills, it's just one opinion on the matter.
But you’re the parent. You know your child and you know when people have been wrong about your child in the past. They’ve said things that you know in your gut are just not true. They’ve said he’s not working hard enough. They’ve said he just needs more time to mature. They’ve said he doesn’t pay attention, and even suggested that he needs medicating. They’ve implied that you’re doing something wrong in parenting. You’ve heard it all if your child is in third or fourth grade already.
And by now you also have a pretty good idea whether or not I’ve accurately described your situation. If I have, you’re probably wondering whether your child actually does have an undiagnosed vision problem. As the parent, it’s up to you do decide how best to help your child, but I recommend that you at least rule out the possibility that your child suffers from undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, vision skills problems by taking him to a developmental optometrist for an evaluation.