Monday, April 25, 2011

Visual Processing Effects on Reading Part 1

One of the most complex activities that the brain performs is reading, and one of the most important parts of reading is the proper movement of the eyes across the page of print to be able to read that print.  Eye movements are the fastest and most frequent movements made by the human body.  Ocular motor control refers to the control and coordination of eye muscles/movements needed to read print on a page.  Ocular motor dysfunction is one of the main causes of poor reading.

Eye movements are controlled by three pairs of muscles that control three different types of eye movements: moving side to side (left to right when reading), moving up and down (moving down to the next line of text, or moving from your notes to the board), and rotating to keep the visual image upright.

When students are given vision screenings for school, they are usually ONLY tested for visual acuity at a distance of 20 feet and for color blindness.  Most reading is done within an arm's length, so the standard eye chart test does not screen for NEAR vision skills, the skills that are in constant demand of students when performing school tasks. Furthermore, the Snellen Eye Chart that is still used today in screenings was developed way back in 1862 to be used during the Civil War!  Needless to say, most standard school vision screenings have limitations in identifying visual problems that may interfere with a student's school performance.

Due to invention of visually passive items like video games, computer screens, and cell phones, near vision problems are becoming an epidemic in school age children.  The National Eye Institute found a 66% increase in in nearsightedness (myopia) from the early 1970's.  Children are spending less and less time outside where vision is stimulated by focusing on objects further away.

Numerous studies have shown that good eye tracking and attentional skills are directly related to reading readiness.  It has been observed that children younger than 7 years old often have inadequate eye movements for reading readiness.  Most 5 year olds have difficulty performing accurate eye movements used in moving from one word to the next of printed text.  So, why are asking our children to read in kindergarten?  The United States has the highest incidence of learning disabled children while Europe demonstrates a much lower incidence of learning disabilities in children.  Research has shown most European nations don't start students reading until 7 years of age.  There is something to be said about outdoor play and allowing young children to develop in an age appropriate manner.

Coming Next:  Part 2:  Symptoms of Poor Eye Tracking Skills

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ear Infections' Impact on Reading

Two of my family members have children that recently had tubes placed in their ears due to recurring ear infections.  Because of my 25 years in the field of special education, with 7 years in private practice, I spoke to both of them about watching the potential of reading difficulties further down the road.  There are many easy to find sources of information connecting ear infections and language delay, but the sources that connect ear infections and reading delays aren't in the mainstream, yet.

A majority of students that I have worked with who had reading difficulties also had recurring ear infections in their early years.  When fluid builds up in the ears, sounds are muffled like listening to the sounds under water.  Most children will have at least one middle ear infection in the first year of life; it is the recurring ear infections that can have the most impact.  It is said that 10-20 percent of children will have ear infections three or more times, with the fluid lasting an average of one month each time, while the persistent ear fluid is more common in children under two years old.  The middle ear contains air which causes the vibration of the bones to produce sound.  When there is fluid in the space instead, the bones do not vibrate which may cause a mild, temporary hearing loss, or inefficient sound processing.

So, during the first three years of life when the child is tuning into the sounds of their language, the fluid in the ears are giving inconsistent and inefficient speech sounds which are difficult to process.  Speech sounds are called phonemes, blended phonemes make up words, like /c/ /a/ /t/ says cat.  If you hear /c/ /a/ /t/, then you can later match up those sounds with the letters to spell or read cat.  If you are getting inconsistent feedback from your ears, cat can sound like cap, tat, etc.  Phonological awareness, understanding how speech sounds are used in words, is the basis for reading success.  The lack of auditory discrimination, difficulty differentiating the difference in similar sounds, especially in the first three years of life may impact the child's future reading skills. 

In private practice, I saw students in all age groups have dificulty with phonological awareness.  Three keys to the success of the students were receiving occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach, therapeutic listening to help retrain the brain to process sensory information more efficiently, and direct instruction in phonological awareness.  This approach was very successful, and I would encourage any parent to seek out an occupationl therapist that has a sensory integration focus who is also trained in therapeutic listening. 

There are a couple of different ways to find an occupational therapist with knowledge of therapeutic listening.  One way is to go to Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (SPD) and look through their directory of service providers. 

Click on the link to go to that site.
While you're there, look into their site, it's an excellent resource for research and current trends.

Another site that you can access is Vital Links, founded by Sheila M. Frick, OTR.  This link sends you right to their provider list which you can search by email.  Most of the providers are occupational therapists, others are people providing academic therapy.
If you are interested in reading more about therapeutic listening's role in improving processing, I suggest you read Listening With the Whole Body by Sheila M. Frick.  Clicking on the link will send to to purchase a copy of the book.    Listening with the whole body

When looking for academic intervention to improve phonological awareness, there are several curriculums that will have proven successful.  Interview people to find out if they have been trained in any or all of the following interventions:
Linda Mood Bell:

 The Lindamood - Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling, and SpeechThe Lindamood - Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling, and Speech 

Susan Barton:

Barton Reading & Spelling System (Phonemic Awareness, Level 1)Barton Reading & Spelling System (Phonemic Awareness, Level 1)

Barton Reading and Spelling System Level 2

The Barton reading and spelling system: An Orton-Gillingham influenced simultaneously multisensory explicit and systematic phonics program

Phonics revealed: Lesson by lesson

SIPPS: Challenge level teacher's guide : systematic instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics, and sight words : a polysyllabic decoding unit (Reading for real)SIPPS: Challenge level teacher's guide : systematic instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics, and sight words : a polysyllabic decoding unit (Reading for real)

Orton Gillingham:

The Orton-Gillingham approach (Reprint series)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let's make the connection!

This my first blog ever...I'm not sure I have even read a blog before, but I've learned I have a lot to say...and sometimes people fact, people have encouraged me to begin a blog and share my knowledge.  After reading this, you may or may not be one of those people, but thanks for taking the chance...

I've been on a journey of learning for the last 25 years of life...a journey rich with experience and learning curves which has led me to achieve myriad of accomplishments.  I spent 18 years as a special education teacher in the public school system in three different states, Illinois, Missouri, and California.  I began my career teaching in a residential facility for adjudicated youth, males removed from their homes by the court system due to poor choices.  I set up the first self-contained classroom in that facility and was very proud of the students' progress.  In those 18 years of public school teaching, I worked with severely behavior disordered youth, schizophrenics, oppositional defiant, conduct disordered, learning disabled, dyslexics, aspergers...I think you get the idea, the population was varied and usually the most extreme of children.  I was never afraid to work with what most teachers considered the more difficult students; in fact, I enjoyed the challenge of it all.  I loved to help those students navigate their world and to understand what was special about them.  It was rare that I wasn't able to make a personal connection with the students; it was that connection that set up our ability to learn from each other.

I spent my last four years of public school teaching in a Northern California high school as a resource teacher of mostly seniors.  It was this experience that motivated me to seek other answers to public education (actually the answer fell into my lap, but more on that later).  Most of the seniors in high school had been in special education for eight or more years, yet their skills were almost the same as when they entered special education.  If they entered reading at a 4th grade level, that's usually where they ended up.  If they entered special education with written expression difficulties, they still had the same issues at the end of high school.  Special Education studentsare leaving the public schools with the sense that they can't achieve anything like the "normal" kids; they leave thinking they are stupid and losers.  It was very difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to change that belief system because students had been believing it for so long.

My philosophy has always been, "All students can learn, but all students do not learn in the same way."  Schools around the nation spout that they believe all students can learn, but it is rare that a school  can demonstrate the committment to make that happen.  Resources are being cut and teachers aren't getting the support and training that is needed for the everchanging needs of students.  I believe in teachers, and I believe the system needs some I left the public school system to begin a journey to try to create the change I want to see in education.

I was lucky enough to meet people that opened the world of sensory intergration to me.  Since 2004, I have been able to put my efforts into understanding the neuro-biological foundations of sensory integration and how it impacts students' learning.  I'm so excited for the opportunity to share that knowledge! 

During the past seven years, I  had been practicing in private learning clinics; now I'm providing services from a home based business.  I've been able to consult on individual cases and do workshops for teachers, but that's just the beginning.  Stick around, read some more, start a conversation, make a connection that could change a child's life!

You can also check out my website: