Dyslexia treatment is often talked about these days. In fact, dyslexia is a commonly diagnosed condition in children today, and over recent years the definition has come to refer to any child struggling at school.
As a result of the broadening of this definition, many children are being diagnosed as dyslexic, and while some programmes exist to help them, many parents struggle to come up with positive ways to help their children.
As a behavioural optometrist for nearly 30 years, I see children diagnosed as dyslexic every day, and I see the confusion and frustration in their parent’s eyes every day too! Seems like there is no shortage of professionals ready to diagnose the condition, but very few offer anything of substance other than a label and instructions like, “Sit at the front of the class and do remedial reading with them.”
My job and indeed my passion is to offer a valid alternative to a simple label, a glossy report and a few, simple instructions.
I want to see kids improve in their reading, writing and spelling and I will stop at nothing to help them!
So here are a few thoughts about the various dyslexia treatment methods used to help children with dyslexia…
1. Remedial Reading as Dyslexia Treatment
This is, of course, an essential part of helping children, but most often it is a frustrating exercise for parents, teachers and especially the students. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, expecting a different result. Based on this definition, reading support is insanity!
The hope is that, doing what the child hates (and is bad at) over and over again, we will suddenly, one day, magically see an improvement in reading. Often doesn’t happen, or if it does it takes a long while to see this increase.
Now, reading help plays a big part in overcoming dyslexia, but not on its own. When used with some of the later methods the results can be absolutely stunning, so don’t write your teachers and reading tutors off just yet!
2. Drugs as Dyslexia Treatment
Medicating children is never one of my favourite directions, but many paediatricians hand out Ritalin or Dexamphetamine like Ventolin for an asthmatic. It may decrease hyperactivity and sometimes even increase concentration, but frequently it does not result in learning improvement for dyslexics.
3. Irlen Lenses for Dyslexia Treatmen
The use of coloured lenses for dyslexia is frequently touted as a cure, but I would have to say that, from what I have seen in clinical practice over the last 30 years, the jury is still out as to the actual effectiveness of the treatment.
A lot of anecdotal evidence exists, but little in the way of scientific backing. My opinion is that the condition, called scotopic sensitivity, does exist and that the colours can help some children. However, they are grossly overpriced and grossly over-prescribed, with one teacher recently reporting that of the 4 kids in her class with Irlen lenses, only one had show increased concentration, which had quickly waned.
Certainly the claims of coloured lenses curing dyslexia are exaggerated, and given the price of the treatment someone somewhere is making a lot of money from dyslexics!
4. Conventional Optometry
Let me make this clear, I am an Optometrist, but a very unconventional one! Standard Optometrists test children, but their criteria for diagnosing and treating dyslexics is very narrow. Essentially, a distance test is done to see if they are longsighted, short sighted or astigmatic to a large degree. If they are not, parents are told that their child’s eyes are 20/20, which is Optometry-speak for fine, and their dyslexia cannot be helped.
I long ago discarded this way of diagnosing in favour of something that actually works!
5. Behavioural Optometry in Dyslexia Treatment
As a behavioural optometrist, I want to do more when examining a dyslexic child. I will test distance like a regular Optometrist, but also do many tests at the near point, the place where the child actually reads and writes. Many times I find that despite a child not being longsighted, their focus and eye teaming abilities are stressed and struggling. When I find this, clear lenses can be prescribed to help the child concentrate and begin to improve in their learning.
Do these glasses cure dyslexia? Are they the “magic bullet” and the answer to every parent’s prayers? No hey are not, but in over 80% of cases I have seen it is part, and often a significant part of the dyslexia story.
My next step is to examine a child’s visual skills, which are always lacking in children diagnosed with dyslexia. I can use vision therapy to enhance these, and have successfully done so for hundreds of so-called dyslexics. The therapy takes time and commitment, but at least it is something parents can do which has a 100% chance of help to at least some degree.
I believe that the best hope for diagnosed dyslexics is to combine behavioural optometry with remedial reading, and in doing this I have seen incredible results over a 6-9 month period.
So if you suspect that your child might be dyslexic, or even if they already have the label, I recommend getting a comprehensive behavioural optometry examination before you do anything else to try and help your child!