Archie’s a good friend, I’ve known him since I was 5 years old. We met in a French-Immersion Kindergarten class in a larger North Eastern Alberta town. Born in April, Archie is a couple of months older than me – something that seemed relevant at the time. Archie always had and still always has a great smile on his face, an infectious laugh, and an easy going attitude about things. Everyone likes to hang out with him, and his wife Betty (no joke, Archie married Betty). He’s was and still is a fine hockey player, even now in his forties, and operates a grain and cattle farm near the same town we grew up in. Archie, me, and many of our friends were involved in our church, spent long summers on our bikes together, and had the same homerooms – in other words, we spent countless hours together and know one another very well.
Early in school, Archie was like the other kids. He did fine overall, had fun, got into some mischief every now and then, but was generally a very respectful and kind kid. Before too long, late into late Grade 1, Archie was obviously starting to have trouble reading. He was obviously smart, maybe not the smartest in class, but he found reading a challenge and really didn’t like reading out loud. He would have to follow along with his finger or a ruler, and would get the words, slowly, ploddingly, but he would get them. There were a few occasions when he was taken from class for extra help, but the trouble persisted.
Around Grade 4, Archie was still struggling, but being passed through the grades because he was clearly a capable kid. He struggled with reading and math, but was smart enough to do better. His struggle with school work was compounded by his compulsion to goof off in class – he was definitely a distracted boy. In Grade 5, he started the habit of pressing his pencil case against his forehead, rocking the handful of pencils, pens, and colors back and forth, left, then right. Archie wanted to do well, but struggled. On a few occasions, he became very frustrated and acted out in class, but this was rare.
Junior High came along and Archie experienced much more discomfort, and this lead to more pencil case massaging of the muscles in the forehead. As the reading load increased, so did Archie’s struggle. The headaches worsened, and he fell further behind. Some of the more astute teachers would accommodate by allowing for more project work, and oral presentations, but in the end no one was able to help Archie, though by that point it was recognized that something was wrong.
In High School, a family doctor recommended Archie visit the local optometrist to see if sight was a problem. Not surprisingly, Archie was severely affected by high astigmatism, something that is difficult to ‘see’ from the outside looking in. Parents will not see this, nor will teachers or school psychologists. Astigmatism is a condition where the eye has trouble focusing on objects, so it keeps on trying. Eventually the strain of constant activity creates a strong pain behind the eyes, somewhat like a migraine. Archie was so badly affected, looking at fine detail (text on pages) for any length of time was quite literally painful and terrifying. Being a mostly polite kid, he struggled through it as well as he could. He finally got glasses in Grade 11 and everyone saw an incredible transformation take place. We could not believe how well he was doing in his classes, and how much more relaxed he seemed.
These days, I have a much better appreciation of what Archie had to deal with, and what a struggle it must have been. What he lived with for 10 years was unnecessary and affected his life in ways he could not recover from.
There is no parent handbook, no owner’s manual for kids. The schools, for their part, assume the role of parents and as such, they are responsible for contributing to the proper care and attention of children. Schools are viewed as experts in child development by parents, and parents tend to follow school advice when it comes to caring for their children – especially in the early years. As professional caretakers and specialists in learning and development, schools are best positioned to take the lead on managing children’s vision and informing parents on the critical role it plays in reading and learning, and how it can severely impact a child’s life if vision is not working well. It is for these reasons that the schools ought to be actively involved in promoting appropriate care of children when they start in the early years. This is as simple as insisting that parents have children checked when they start, at the beginning, before trouble sets in. In Alberta, there is no cost to parents for this.
ArchiesLaw.com is a public information web site established to describe in more detail ‘hidden’ visual impediments that affect up to 25% of Canadian school children. Please take the time to have a look ar0und. Also, MountainPostcards.com provides free hi-resolution images while promoting awareness of children’s visual needs. Please share these sites with your colleagues, friends, and family.