Thursday, October 29, 2009

Part 6 Series My Experience With and Theories About Learning Styles

Part 6: Getting an Expert’s Opinion About the Eye Tracking Problem and Changing Homeschool Plans

The first thing I did was ask around for a referral to a good behavioral optometrist and to ask who to avoid seeing. I heard the appointment with that doctor was not easy to get, so I called right away to get an appointment for a couple of months later.

The second step for me was to figure out what I could glean from those test results about academic content. I decided to re-teach some concepts that had already been taught, and I thought, mastered, but had not received high scores on the tests, just in case he really did not learn them (I had my doubts).

Another thing I did was decided to start a reading comprehension teaching program that veered from the Charlotte Mason method and was more in line with how the public schools teach and measure it. First I read a book about the modern ‘school way’ of teaching it. Then I decided to use a workbook based program. I’d teach the concepts and he’d do the work. The questions were multiple choice, fill in the blank and open-ended. I figured this doubled as practice for test taking too. I was hoping to cover all the bases while not abandoning the best parts of the Charlotte Mason method. In other words, work on dry and boring “public school like” work but still do the “great stuff” with different methods used in classical homeschooling and with good materials and narration, and also using the Charlotte Mason method when possible.

What the Behavioral Optometrist Said

The doctor said he was part of a year behind in reading speed, processing speed and the doctor said he had very small visual fields. He had convergence insufficiency which meant his two eyes were looking at two different things on the page; they were not converging (focusing) together to meld the text into one thing. Kids usually will try to focus on what one eye sees in order to read it. Some kids (not mine) tilt their heads to the side to see things out of one eye only and some squint or try to shut one eye to close out the second view. Imagine trying to read like when you look through binoculars and see two different views that don’t meld together. That is what my son was seeing when he was trying to read!

The doctor asked if he was behind in school. After saying we homeschool he asked how he was doing with learning. I explained that our method of homeschooling (Charlotte Mason) relied heavily on being read aloud to from more difficult books. He replied that unbeknownst to me I had been compensating for my son’s learning disability. By giving him input of information in an auditory fashion his weakness with obtaining content from reading text had been accidentally hidden or masked, thus I didn’t know it existed. I was speechless when he said that. I had never thought that the use of the Charlotte Mason method might actually hide a problem from being discovered. (In a future blog post I will tell about a discussion I had with this doctor in October 2009 about neurobiology and neural pathways as that is relevant to this discussion.)

I was reading aloud from higher level books starting in Kindergarten based on the Charlotte Mason method’s recommendation not to make up for deficits, but the result was the same, my son was learning content just fine as he was receiving most of it through auditory methods. But my choice to read aloud had masked the realization that my son was suffering with an LD connected to reading and visual processing. He said if my son was in school and being forced to learn using the methods the whole class was using he would do more poorly than his peers and he may have been flagged for having a problem with reading comprehension.

I will remind you at this point that my son’s learning styles test showed he was a visual (image) learner primarily and secondarily a kinesthetic learner. In last place was auditory. So the idea that for years he learned best by listening to books read aloud or on recorded audio books is something to ponder about the validity of learning styles or at least that one test my son took (from Discover Your Child’s Learning Style book).

Although his eyes were deemed 20/20 in the spring of his third grade year by an ophthalmologist (after my son said he had blurred vision) this doctor said at age 10 my son needed reading glasses for farsightedness. He has a mild prescription lens plus something called a “prism” in the lens to help with the convergence insufficiency.

We were told to have him use the glasses when he read so that is what he did. However about nine months later I asked about other close work and was told he should have been wearing them whenever doing close work, on the computer, doing math work, spelling, anything with handwriting, any reading, even fun comic book reading, and if playing handheld video games too.

Eye Tracking Treatment Started

My son began treatment for his condition which was convergence insufficiency. I have shared lots of details of that story in other blog posts (one is I've Been Learning About Convergence Insufficiency).

In summary he had syntonic phototherapy (see explanation in this post A Little Information About Syntonic Phototherapy) for 21 days in a row, after a wait time for the rental unit. After six months of no therapies, the doctor trained me to do what I believe are more traditional vision therapy eye exercises at home. A few months later he was changed to use a computer software program for increasing visual processing speed and retraining the mind to do quick recall of sequences of numbers. I note that some of these same exercises were discussed as neurodevelopmental techniques in lectures I heard at a homeschooling conference given by Lynda Kane. There was a three month interruption in that treatment in the summer of 2009 while my son recovered from infectious mononucleosis, when he was so wiped out with fatigue that the exercises were very difficult and seemed to be a total waste of time. The last tweak to his program implemented in October 2009 centers around learning strategies for spelling and vocabulary (one of his weak areas) and continuing with the computer program which I can describe as a visual processing speed exercise to retain the numbers seen on the screen after having them flashed at him for 2 or 3 seconds.

Results I Could See in His Schoolwork

His reading, spelling and math immediately improved once treatment began. He got passionate about reading and went on to read much longer and more difficult books, jumping from Andrew Clements books (grade 5 reading level) to reading the entire Eragon series (much longer and published for young adults). He was so happy to read some books and would stay up late at night as he was unable to stop reading them. I was overjoyed.

When Did Symptoms First Appear?

For clarification I’ll share this. It seems my son’s learning plateaued when in the fourth grade. There was a shift from good progress in grade three to stagnation in grade four.

In the summer between his grade three and grade four he had a terrible case of Lyme Disease. Our family had done a lot of hiking that spring. That is the same exact time that my other son got a bad case of Lyme Disease and also a second tick-borne (life threatening) illness called Ehrlichiosis. I also got Lyme at that same exact time. Our family had a terrible summer of trying to heal from these diseases.

It was proposed to me by my son’s doctor that the Lyme for my older son progressed to stage 2 which involves the neurological system. This can cause processing disorders (learning disabilities) in children. This all makes perfect sense to me because my son was not a challenge from the start of his homeschool life; a big shift happened between the end of grade three and the beginning of grade five. Some other challenges were forgetting math facts that he used to know, and his spelling went backwards all of a sudden such as not knowing how to spell “had” and “went” and doing really weird spelling error such as leaving out major letters that are key to the word’s pronunciation such as leaving the “b” out of “notebook” when repeating back that the word spelled was “notebook” and by orally spelling it correctly then looking down at the written word he just finished writing and being surprised there was no “b” in it. His ability to spell went out the window. Lastly he seemed to forget every single phonics rule he had already learned that allowed him to learn to read in the first place which seemed nonsensical to me.

A Learning Disability

This diagnosis is a learning disability. I had trouble adjusting to the fact that my son had a diagnosis label and was no longer just ‘normal’ or ‘average’. I had taken it for granted that my son was just a typical kid.

In an attempt to provide my son with the best treatments and to give him a good quality education I needed to educate myself about this condition. The next phase included finding out some general issues regarding learning and kids with learning disabilities. I learned that motivation can be an issue, poor self-esteem can be felt but hidden by kids and numerous other things. It helped me to find out some general information that can apply to all kids (and adults) with an LD.

Homeschooling an LD Kid?

A few times I worried about homeschooling a child with an LD. I wondered if schools might better handle this. After dealing with my son and his known condition for a year and nine months my outlook is that homeschooling is working out just great. I worry that the load of school work in the traditional schools may not be a good fit for any child with an LD. They have on and off days. Some days they are tapped out of energy. These things are not in alignment with the demands of traditional schools.

If he was in school he may have low self-esteem due to comparing his performance to that of his peers. I can only imagine how quickly a hurt child can turn into an angry child and then turn off to learning in general and start to hate school. I also can imagine that I’d have to deal with the teachers, asking for accommodations, being his advocate and so forth. That takes a lot of time to work to try to change the normal routines of a system. Frankly I think homeschooling him is easier for me than doing that!

It remains a challenge to both provide my son with an adequate or excellent home education plus allow for relaxed lessons or looser schedules to accommodate his LD issues and his recent mono! I have not let go of certain high educational standards yet. I want my son to be prepared to enter the career field of his choice. At present that is engineering which requires a college degree. The engineering degree is a difficult one heavy in math and science. If he is to pursue that degree he will have a lot of hard work in his middle school and definitely in high school. So having a label and an LD is not an excuse for him to let go of his dreams and hopes. I just have a hard time being both the mom and the teacher sometimes. I have to spend time educating myself on these LD issues and the specific conditions. I have to research teaching methods and tweak the curriculum’s recommendations sometimes. Making customized changes takes time and effort. It creates more work for me, more than “just” homeschooling.

So far I think I’m doing well with handling homeschooling a child with an LD.

And I’m keeping meticulous records just in case anyone accuses our family of educational neglect.

And I continue to monitor state government and will always work to protect homeschooling freedoms in my state. I am happy that education is a state issue not a federal issue as I feel I have more power as a citizen to work with my state legislature, I feel their ears and hearts are more open than that of our reps in our federal government.

1 comment:

christinethecurious said...

I've been looking forward to more posts on this subject.

I remember my Mom's friend lamenting her son's LD accommodations or lack of them at his public school growing up, and how he had to continue to advocate for himself in college, where there was some near superstitious attitudes about LDs.

My most helpful learning experiences were when I discussed my work with my folks, I knew I could go deeper with them than I could in school, and that my parents were more interested in me, and in knowledge than my teachers, even the excellent ones were.

So I agree that yes, your son is in a better learning space right now than he would be, and so are you.

By the way, my husband is an Electrical Engineer at a small test lab in South Eastern Massachusetts, if your boys want to come for a field trip, they have some fun destructive equipment, not quiet as exciting as myth busters, but often more exact. He has a lot of engineering school stories, he went to the Cooper Union in NYC (Where Edison was kicked out for smoking ;-)

We are about an hour drive from Mystic, right off Rt 95, if that gives you an idea of travel time.

-Christine in Massachusetts