Inside a Learning Specialist's Practice, Part 3

This is part three of a 5-part blog series that aims to give parents an understanding of the differences between a tutor and an academic Learning Specialist and how a specialist makes lasting breakthroughs with struggling learners. This blog will continue to cover Augie, the boy who will be going into second grade but who needs math and reading help over the summer.

In his second private session with me, I identified something that may be at the root of his difficulty at school. I had Augie start the session by reading with me; last week I focussed on math so this week I set out to assess his reading skills. As he sat next to me and read, I experienced a strong and confident reader. Nonetheless his end-of-year school evaluation showed comprehension lagged behind his reading level; this is not an unusual weakness for many strong readers. When a strong reader isn’t comprehending well however, there are a few underlying issues that have to be checked out.

One thing to rule out is whether a child might have ADD or ADHD. If so, he or she might be able to read fairly well, but internally they are often focussed on other things instead of only on what they’re reading. An upcoming playdate, a visit with a grandparent, a worry about a sick pet - many thoughts cycle in and out for a child with attention deficit, interfering with comprehension.

Another thing that may interfere with reading comprehension is a child having a ‘Moving Dominant’ OptiKode. These are the natural born athletes who have a great deal of kinetic energy. If they sit for too long however, their kinetic energy literally dysregulates them and they are unable to remember what they are reading for long. After even 30 minutes, their short term memory fades and in a day or two they often can’t recall anything they’ve read. I see this kind of kinetic, Moving Dominant child all the time; they make up the bulk of my practice and require active learning techniques to stay regulated and able to retain what they read.

Toward the end of the session with Augie I did an eye tracking assessment to see if he could easily follow my finger as I moved it vertically, then horizontally, in front of his eyes. I do this with all my new students in the first session or two. Visual tracking problems are the number two learning disability I pick up in my students; it probably won’t surprise you that ADD./ADHD is the number one. As I watched Augie try to track my finger, I was astonished. He had virtually no ability to follow my finger whatsoever with his eyes. I have only seen this degree of eye tracking difficulty once before and it was over 12 years ago.

When Augie’s father came to pick him up, I had him watch as I repeated the eye tracking exercise and it was no different - Augie’s eyes were unable to follow my finger even a little. I gave this father a referral to a local specialist who I have referred many parents to for this kind of problem.. As I explained, the good news is that eye tracking difficulty is relatively easy to treat and within 8-10 visits, Augie’s poorly functioning eyes will be working effectively for the first time.

It is always a relief when I pick up something unusual that is complicating a child’s success. It’s always a huge shock to parents but of course it’s important to identify any and all roadblocks and remove them from a child’s path as soon as possible. Most of us do better getting things fully out on the table as opposed to letting them remain hidden from full view. I offer parents a lot of needed support and often a Kleenex or two when problems come to the surface and require additional help.

In a week or two I anticipate Augie’s parents will have gotten him evaluated and a treatment plan will be in place already. When his eyes are working as needed, Augie will not be straining as he has been doing up until now and his comprehension skills will more than likely develop naturally and quickly. I think his math delays will also quickly resolve; a visual processing disorder effects the entire school curriculum and in Augie’s case I think his tracking problem is effecting math a great deal too.