I regularly see questions from women who wonder about their elementary age children. “How do I motivate a reluctant learner? He’s six (or seven, or eight), and not reading yet, and has a hard time writing. He doesn’t want to focus. He doesn’t want to apply himself. He just wants to play. When pushed, he can do it, but it’s a battle.”
And I know the answer to this question! Or, rather, I have a good guess that the issue is either visual tracking or auditory processing. And I know how to tell the difference, and I know how to run an assessment like Dr. Karen Holinga does in her reading clinic. And I know that 80% of the time the issue could go away after one visit to a pediatric optometrist.
But when I try to answer this question on social media, when I bring the statistics and the weight of 25,000 children who have been helped, I have yet to have one single mother respond with any sense of conviction that what I am saying is correct. Every single time, they sidestep the issue.
I get it. If I link to an article with my son’s story, the mother will say that her son isn’t that extreme, so visual tracking can’t be the issue. If I forego links, I’m drowned out by the chorus of mothers who say, “Boys just need more time!” Even though the research shows that this advice only works for 25% of children. If I say outright, “Get an appointment,” two weeks later, the same mother posts the same concern.
And it is breaking my heart — I am literally wiping away tears here — because school shouldn’t be a battle. Children like to learn to read, because books are amazing.
And, yes, I get that children do prefer to play than to do schoolwork. We have a little moan when it’s time for school here, but then general compliance (some days more grudging than others). But there is a different level of resistance when it’s something that a student doesn’t want to do, compared with something that they can’t do. And too often parents make this a character issue, when it’s not a character issue.
And sometimes parents throw around horrible words to define their child, like lazy or unmotivated or rebellious. Horrible words that are, maybe, sometimes true in some areas of life, but not usually true of early elementary students who are working hard because their parents want them to, but can’t do anything easily because their eyes don’t work right.
And these children don’t have words to say, “I’m trying hard, but the words look fuzzy” or “The words move.” I thought that children would mention it, but they don’t, because what they see is what they’ve always seen.
If you see purple what everyone else sees as yellow, how would you know? You can’t get into someone else’s vision to see how yours is different!
There’s a famous dyslexia simulator that demonstrates what reading is like for some children without proper visual tracking.
But I can’t get across the importance of this information in one paragraph on social media.
And today, after yet another failure to communicate both how easy and how important treating the root cause can be, my heart is breaking.