The Hidden Disability – Chapter 4
Where did everything finally shift?
Our son finally failed a vision screening test at school. I had read about children with dysgraphia sometimes having vision issues as well. Every adult in my and John’s families, with the exception of me, all wear glasses. My sister in law was diagnosed with macular degeneration in her 30’s. I’ve been watching and waiting for any indication of vision issues for either of my children, even annoying my son with questions about blurry vision and such. No symptoms ever manifested.
And suddenly he finally, bless-fully, failed an eye test.
We discovered our son had a rare vision deficiency that was not only not a recent development, but had been hidden for years. It remained hidden, even while we kept watching for patterns for more insight, because it turned out that he’s “so gifted” his brain had figured out ways to essentially fake it to get by. And honestly, he didn’t know he saw differently than anyone else. His vision problems didn’t exhibit typical symptoms and they didn’t cause blurry vision or other things we were watching for. I had no idea that he’d never seen double in his life and didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked him about it. And no wonder he thought 3-D moves were a waste of time. He couldn’t see the effects. But his better eye and that gifted brain of his kept him going. It wasn’t until age 10 that he finally failed that eye test at school.
Finally, after this discovery, after researching for better explanations and finding the only doctor in the area who could treat it, we have answers today that are filling in the missing pieces for all of us, parents and teachers alike.
Homework and classwork has always been a struggle for our son. He’s been the last one done most of his educational life. When the dysgraphia was finally diagnosed, a 504 plan was created for him at school. He began working with a computer, but we wanted to keep handwriting in his life, so we chose to integrate both skills into his work. Still, many things we tried only seemed to work so-so. And we’d find break-downs over homework and school to be a regular part of his reality.
There have been several reasons for the break downs. I have found that physical blocks often have emotional stress sources. But other times, as in the case of my son’s physical “disabilities,” physical stresses can be at the source. It was amazing to learn that our son’s vision impairment really does physically wear him out, not just mentally or emotionally. Which explained some of his clumsiness during PE right after a hard test. The beginning of his work tends to be more accurate than towards the end, etc. The longer the strain, the less accurate the information both received and produced. Stepping away from the eye and hand strain for awhile can really help, etc.. But also, if he’d had a day of teasing at school for being the last one done, even if he ignored them and kind of forgot it happened (he’s very forgiving), it could affect his work as well.
Suddenly we had insight into situations that were hard for teachers and parents alike. After a break-down of “I just don’t understand! None of it makes sense!” while you try to figure out how on earth to explain something that’s plain as day, sometimes even I began to wonder, “Is this just stubbornness we’re dealing with?” I know his teachers often did.
Learning about his rare vision deficiency helped us discover that he was not actually seeing what was on the paper. That he has a bad eye that gives bad information and jumbles up the characters he sees. That the more tired he gets, the worse it gets. That the beginning of tests were more accurate than the end. And that if we took a break and he came back to it, usually it made a difference and often “suddenly made sense.” This was more significant in math than in reading, though it affected the context of what he read.
The brain figures out that with any given set of letters, only so many words can be made of them. So often his intelligence would help him read like everyone else by literally making his good eye jump back and forth and up and down all over the page so it could take in the information as quickly as possible to allow him to read like anyone else. And sometimes it would compensate by trying to substitute similar words for each other, like house for home. The context can be inaccurate, which becomes more of a problem in higher grades, but in general, the brain copes fairly well in this manner.
However, the brain does not have these advantages in mathematics. He began bombing his tests after whizzing through them and claiming, “Wow, that was really easy!” Yet he’d have answers no one could figure out how he got, because he solved problems that were not really printed on his page.