Learning Disabilities in the Classroom, Part 4 of 4: Eyes Wide Shut

 

Every week in my clinic, we see the impact of treating developmental disorders through directed therapy. Little of what we do looks like schoolwork and kids love it – it’s fun and engaging, and they develop the skills and abilities they need to succeed in the classroom. Not only do we treat developmental problems, we can detect children at-risk by studying and following behavior periodically over the first 18-24 months of school, from K to 1. What we do works, every time, and where help is needed, the changes are obvious within months. We see transformations that even we don’t expect. Still, it’s a lot harder to help kids when they’re older.

Schools have an important role to play in ensuring a) problems are avoided where possible, b) meaningful solutions are made available to parents, and c) taxpayers are neither unnecessarily nor overly burdened. The current reality is, however, that there is a significant knowledge gap concerning visual function and how it relates to learning and reading therapy. These issues are simply not covered in schools of education, medicine, and psychology and so they are not even on the radar. This costs parents, and it costs taxpayers.

To illustrate, the current approach to the visual development of early learners is to say all children are the same and are equally ready to handle the intensely visual tasks at school. This is equivalent to saying that since all healthy children have legs, all healthy children are ready to run a marathon. We understand this to be an outrageous statement and expectation, and yet education (and medical) professionals are trained to view vision in this fashion – that all kids are equally well-equipped visually to handle the grueling 13-year schooling cycle. In the end, they fail to recognize the real, measurable, and important differences in visual abilities between children, or that these ‘might’ have something to do with how well they handle visually-oriented tasks, like learning to read and write.

Schools do not provide early assessment of the status of development, nor do they provide information to encourage parents to investigate, so parents are on their own. Most often, except in rare cases, children simply aren’t checked. Finding a source for such an assessment is difficult, but it amounts to a general assessment of gross and fine-motor skills by occupational therapy, and a comprehensive visual functional check (including health, motor skills, eye coordination, eye-hand coordination, focussing, and perceptual skills, and a few others). If a child is shown be be strong in these assessments, they will almost certainly succeed at at least an average level without too much difficulty. Children with identified areas of concern should receive remedial care immediately. Schools can and should do more to facilitate these sorts of assessments for all children at intake.

Currently, a child must fall behind or experience other significant trouble before there is an investigation into possible causes. Frequently, the child is said to be dyslexic, or have attention problems, but this doesn’t matter too much to desperate parents and frustrated kids. In fact, the rush to label probably does more harm than good. The label is of no consequence to the problem, it’s what you do about it that counts, and striving to avoid problems in the first place is better still.

By addressing things early, we can ensure children are on track to do as well as they can without unnecessary burdens posed by labored vision or other developmental concerns. Other countries and states do this sort of early assessment and intervention, and save parents years of grief, and taxpayers millions annually. Here in Alberta, there are no requirements for this sort of care – and we all pay much more for it as a consequence through unnecessary testing, intervention, and healthcare costs.

Children, ALL children, should be assessed for developmental concerns, especially vision problems, by the end of Kindergarten, then again at the end of Grade 2. These are critical times in development and in school advancement. By assessing visual behavior and developmental milestones, parents can help their children avoid and overcome issues, and avoid unnecessary and inflated expenses down the road.

If you have not had your Kindergarten-aged children assessed, it is not only a prudent thing to do, but a kind thing. It’s easy, costs parents nothing. Don’t wait until the school tells you your child has a problem. By then, it’s already too late. If your child IS having learning and reading problems, we can definitely help, and you can contact your local public health office or family doctor for information on locating occupational therapy services. Learn more at drboulet.com or by calling us at 403-933-5552.

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