Part 2

Note: If you read last week’s article, skip down to *Undiagnosed Vision Issues. If you didn’t, keep reading because you need this initial information!

Parents often ask me, when they use my Special Reads curriculum, “How long will it take for my child/teen to master this? And can he learn to read?” The answer is twofold: that depends on the learner, and that depends on you. The “you” part of it is fairly simple; the “learner” part is more complex, and there are 4 possible stumbling blocks…


The “you” part of it is straightforward: how much effort are you able to give to this, and are you willing to learn how to teach it? The Reading Bundles on my site come packaged with plenty of instruction, and I’ve made that instruction reader-friendly (including the Whole Child Reading book), but you’ll have to set aside time to read it! As far as teaching time commitment goes, that’s not much to start with: my “reading prescription” is 5 Minutes 2x a Day for emergent readers. That’s it. The time stretches gradually with success and enthusiasm.

Your Learner

The “learner” part of it is more complex. That involves personality (of course), interest/lack of interest in books, age, and secondary diagnoses, if any. Here are the often hidden stumbling blocks I’ve encountered with my students:

  1. Undiagnosed autism/ASD/other diagnoses
  2. Undiagnosed vision issues
  3. ADHD
  4. Lack of early training in at least a minimum of compliance

In my Whole Child Reading workshops focusing on teaching reading to learners with DS, I say at the outset, “Meet their need and they will read.” Then I go about explaining how to do that; but I also talk about 4 stumbling blocks. Last week I wrote about the first block. Today we’ll continue with Block #2, Undiagnosed Vision Issues.

*undiagnosed vision issues

Initially objecting to having glasses, now Sophie refuses to read without them!

This one is a real challenge, because it can be missed even by reputable evaluations. There are numerous vision or tracking complications which can be missed by even respected medical institutions, and we need to ferret those out if we suspect something’s going on.

Here’s the problem: the child is not going to tell you they can’t see what you’re asking them to see. You’re going to have to Sherlock the situation.

The child will naturally think that everyone sees the way they do. Remember when you were a child? You thought your family was just like all other families. You thought everyone experienced what you did. Not.

So, our number 1 problem is that the child can’t communicate something like, “You know, my vision is better if I turn my head and look out of the side of my eyes; it helps me. It’s not great, but it’s better. It’s really frustrating because I can’t see what you’re asking me to learn.” We’re not going to hear that coming from our learners with DS.

The case of Imilee

So here’s a prime example. I give Imilee the prize for being one of the most agreeable and compliant children with Down syndrome that I’ve ever taught. But darn it, she just couldn’t catch on to reading. Her devoted Grandma brought her to me every week. Sherlock observation: Imilee read with her head turned sideways so that she could only see the book out of the corner of her eyes. She also put her face 2 inches from the paper.

I said to Grandma, “Something’s going on with her vision.”

Grandma said to me, “Something’s going on with her vision.”

So Grandma took her twice over two years to a highly respected medical institution for a visual exam. “No problem,” she was told. Twice. So Imilee continued to struggle with reading, looking sideways 2 inches from the book. Finally, Grandma had had enough and took her to a private specialist for yet another visual exam.

Imilee reads the “I Said” book from our Emergent Reader Bundle.

Bingo! “They should have found this diagnosis in 10 minutes,” said the specialist. So Imilee got the diagnosis and the glasses she needed. Yay! Grandma and I felt vindicated. Imilee no longer read with her face sideways 2 inches from the paper.

But what if Grandma and I had taken the word of respected professionals? What if we figured Imilee just had this funny personality quirk of trying to read sideways? What if we hadn’t listened to our gut? So here’s my message:

If you think something’s going on, and you’re told it’s not, keep trusting your instincts and get a second…or third…opinion. Trust yourself.

Imilee’s situation is not the only one I’ve encountered with my students. I think semi-hidden vision problems are more common than we think. What I’ve told you so far is from my own experience; but let’s hear it from the professionals in the field:

vision therapy

Today, vision therapy has come a long, long way. It offers real solutions to vision/tracking problems. If you can get an accurate diagnosis, you know what road to take to correct the problem. Maybe glasses alone will do it, but maybe vision training is what’s needed. A quick search will get you information like excerpts from the following article, titled “Vision therapy for children: when glasses aren’t enough.” (

“Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, non-surgical and customized program of visual activities designed to correct certain vision problems and/or improve visual skills.

Unlike eyeglasses and contact lenses, which simply compensate for vision problems, or eye surgery that alters the anatomy of the eye or surrounding muscles, vision therapy aims to “teach” the visual system to correct itself…Vision therapy is like physical therapy for the visual system, including the eyes and the parts of the brain that control vision.

Many studies have shown that vision therapy can correct vision problems that interfere with efficient reading among schoolchildren.”

Trust yourself

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: trust your gut. Trust your intuition. If you think something else is going on besides Down syndrome, it is. Keep exploring until you get what you feel is an accurate evaluation.

See you next week for Part 3 of reading stumbling blocks: ADHD!




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