Happy Cheetah Reading

How a Decade of Missed Eye Appointments Hurt My Son

I knew that visual tracking issues might run in my family. My dad fell always asleep within a few minutes of starting to read. Somehow he managed to get a Master’s degree, despite this reading-induced narcolepsy.

One of my brothers struggled with learning to read. He was valedictorian, so it didn’t hurt him too much, but he tells a story of that time he was assigned Crime and Punishment in high school. He usually listened to his school books on audio, but he wanted to see if he was disadvantaging himself by not reading the text. So he started a chapter on the CD player, then turned it all the way down, picked up the same chapter and read the book as fast as he could. “I had sweat dripping off my face with the effort, and missed probably half the words because I was trying to read so fast, and wasn’t sure, in the end what I was reading. And I finished the chapter, and turned the CD player back up . . . and the narrator was reading the last words of the chapter. From that point on, I gave myself permission to just listen. I learned better that way.”

In college, he found out that his reading difficulties were mostly caused by an undiagnosed visual tracking issue.

Another brother had shown no symptoms except headaches. He, too, went and got a proper diagnosis in college.

So all the men in my family of origin struggled with visual tracking issues.

We also have a family story about my sister, homeschooled her whole life, who, at age 12 was driving with my parents. For the first time, they thought to ask, “Can you read that sign?”

“What sign?” said my sister. “I don’t see a sign. Oh! That sign? Wait — it went past too fast.”

Oops. Parent fail.

She got glasses as soon as possible.

So I was prepared to need to get glasses for my children.

But when I brought my oldest in for an eye exam at age 5, the eye doctor kind of chuckled at my enthusiasm. “You really don’t need to bring a child in unless they are showing some sign of needing glasses.”

And since my oldest sailed through his appointment, and showed no signs, and, indeed, my own vision had always been pretty good, I was happy enough to skip eye exams for what seemed like healthy eyes.

I would occasionally do the “Can you see the sign?” test with my children, and they seemed fine.

A few of them did seem to be dealing with dyslexia, though . . . .

Did you know that the symptoms of dyslexia — mistaking b and d, skipping small words, falling behind grade level — are all symptoms of a visual tracking disorder?

All those years of struggle, when what we really needed was a good eye doctor appointment.

Come to find out, that first optometrist gave me the wrong advice!

When I finally went to a pediatric optometrist, she could not believe the recommendation that earlier doctor had given.

So you don’t make the same mistake I did: the standard recommendation is to have an eye exam when a baby is six months old.

Then have another exam at age three years.

Then plan for an annual exam every year from age five on.

And note that a standard eye exam might — or might not — catch any vision issues.

But more on that to come at a later date.

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