We spent a good part of a morning last week choosing new glasses for Eliza.
Nothing extraordinary in that, you might say, and holidays are a good opportunity for personal housekeeping without taking precious time off school. Eliza has almost perfect eyesight, however, and these glasses are not there to help her with any deficiency on that score. She chose red Calvin Klein frames and the lenses will be tinted dark grey with hints of blue and purple, as defined accurately by a Colorimetry machine this morning. They are there to help this diligent, hard working 17 year old A level student to read in a way that she has never experienced before, in a way that most of you reading this take for granted.
For Eliza was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Visual Strain and words on a page have, until now, appeared to her with rivers running through them, metamorphosing into shapes before her eyes. The glasses with grey lenses will help the words stand still and behave so that she can interpret what they’re saying to her and spend more time assimilating their meaning and learning from them.
I’d always suspected that there was something wrong. She’s always had the most enthusiastic school reports from teachers and parents’ evenings, and yet always underperformed in exams. I’ve always known she was bright and yet been quietly disappointed that her prodigious vocabulary, sustained hard work and enormous intellectual curiosity have never been reflected by more public tests of her intelligence. The non-verbal reasoning (NVR) – based entrance test, for example, to our local girls’ only superselective school, was too much for her and I simply could not understand why others who were patently not as widely read or clued up as her managed to get through it and enter the school when she did not. But she didn’t want to go to an all-girls school and her present school was much more stable so we didn’t pursue matters. Without going into huge detail, the Educational Psychologist who tested her last month found that it her dyslexia made it very difficult for her brain to take in tests like this, a proxy for intelligence in our part of the world. Her report also stated that it was very rare for someone with such a high level of verbal dexterity to perform so poorly in NVR.
I feel quite angry and resentful that no-one in a professional capacity, who sees hundreds of children every year, noticed that Eliza was struggling. In fact it was a chance conversation with a friend, to whom I’m deeply grateful, that set us on the path to discovering the problem once and for all. I suppose Eliza has always done better than OK at school and that perhaps her teachers ascribed her disappointing exam results to the amount of teaching time she missed while stuck for hours every day in the nurses’ station with dizzy spells. The more I think about it, the more I am sure that Eliza’s horrendously debilitating dizzy spells were down to the visual strain and the stress of trying to keep up when she was having such a struggle simply reading.
Why didn’t she tell us before? She’s highly independent and proud to be in control. She’d rather spend hours in her room puzzling over a problem than come downstairs and ask anyone for help. And in contrast with many parents i know, it’s always been my policy not to help or do my children’s homework for them. Eliza thought that everyone saw text on a page in this way and didn’t want to bother anyone, so she has struggled for all these years. It makes me feel so sad on her behalf and part of me feels that I have let her down.
So I’m determined to make it up to her. She’ll have her new glasses soon, which should be a tremendous help. If I had not witnessed her reading performance during her optometrist appointment enhanced by about 30% and much more fluent using the coloured overlays, I would not have believed the difference the glasses could make. We’ll get her on a touch typing course and we’ll fight to facilitate her access to help that will finally put her on an equal footing with all of her classmates. I can’t help wondering how well she would have done if any of us had realised her problems ten years ago but now we can measure her problems, we can at least do something about them and that, at least, is a huge relief.