A Sit Down – with Wendy Wright Kinkade
This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Wendy Wright Kinkade
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
We have two boys, Ryan (16) and Jacob (12), who are recent graduates of the Vision Therapy program at the University of the Incarnate Word Eye Institute. Since their diagnoses in January of 2013, I have shared their story and begun advocating for Vision Therapy in my area of NE San Antonio.
Can you explain how you came to find Vision Therapy?
Our sons had struggled with academics for over 7 years. They were each several years behind grade level in reading and were in tutored in school since early Elementary. Finally, their reading specialist realized that they were great auditory learners and only exhibited distracted behaviors and academic difficulty when trying to read. They were bright students, and could exhibit mastery of anything they were taught verbally or through demonstration, yet could not do the same with any academia or testing that they were required to read independently. She realized that their issue must be vision related, and shared her theory with me. I couldn’t believe it at first, there was no way their academic struggles could be vision related after they had passed their Elementary vision screenings. Besides, my oldest had played baseball since he was 5 years old, and had made his high school baseball team. If they had a vision problem, surely we would have realized? What parent wouldn’t have noticed that their child couldn’t see? Thankfully, she persisted, and that very evening, she and I both began looking online for information about auditory learners, poor comprehension and visual tracking, since they skipped words more often than not. We found the University of the Incarnate Word Eye Institute, and learned the difference between sight and vision. It struck me that she may have finally found it, our “needle in the haystack.”
By the time you found Vision Therapy, had your kids received other services for their challenges?
They had been evaluated for Dyslexia and ADD/ADHD, with negative results, and had been in RtI, a reinforcement program in our school district for students identified as needing additional support, since 2nd grade and Kindergarten. They had also been in tutoring and strategizing interventions with most of their teachers. We had even enrolled them in the Baylor University Reading Program to help them “catch up” on reading, but never saw significant results. They could achieve enough growth not to be classified as learning disabled, but never enough to reach grade level or move beyond required school intervention.
Did you experience the ‘homework war’?
Homework was certainly a daily battle. I learned early on that the boys learned better and had an easier time when I did their homework, projects and studying with them, but was always looking for that opportunity to teach them to work independently. They were also especially tired after school, often falling asleep in the car on the short drive home. They had difficulty concentrating, especially any time they were faced with a task they perceived as daunting, and would even shut down if the assignment looked to be too much. During reading homework, they would make it through the first few words of the first sentence and then stop, every single time. I couldn’t tell you how often I grew frustrated and yelled at the boys for this, “Why did you stop? Please continue.” Several silent minutes would pass before I would point out the next word and again ask them to continue, not conceiving how they could possibly lose their place only a few words into a paragraph. Tears often ensued as we attempted to work our way through the assignment; read a few words, stop, silence, frustration. No wonder they disliked reading if this happened each time they tried?
Did your kids have a vision screening in school? What were the results?
Yes, the public schools in Texas screen students in kindergarten, 1st, 3rd and 5th grades. They passed each time, and each has 20/20 visual acuity.
The first time you visited the UIW Eye Institute and began to complete the pre-visit questionnaire, what were your thoughts?
I actually began to have hope for the first time in years when I began the questionnaire. With each question, I became more and more excited, realizing that nearly every box on the page was checked. After over 7 years of knowing SOMETHING wasn’t right, after struggling through every school day, assignment and test, I hardly dared hope we had finally found our answer, yet, they each had nearly every symptom listed. That was the first of many times our doctors saw me cry.
After meeting Dr. Maki and Dr. Coats and discussing the challenges your kids were facing, what were your feelings?
I was amazed at the extensive testing that our doctors and UIW students performed to assess our boys. At one point during one of the evaluations, my youngest son’s right eye completely crossed, something we had never observed before. I was astounded at what I was seeing and learning about their visual systems, and realized that my assumption that they “could see fine” based on their visual screenings in school was terribly wrong. Once we had their diagnoses of Oculomotor Dysfunction (tracking), Accommodative Insufficiency (focus) and Binocular Inefficiency, plus low visual perception function in most areas, we were elated. Every part of the boys’ diagnoses made sense and perfectly explained the reasons for every academic struggle. I had felt since their 2nd grade and kindergarten years that SOMETHING was not right, yet no doctor, teacher or counselor could answer the question of what. Many tried to explain it away as ADD/ADHD or said they were “just boys” and would “grow out of it.” I was crushed that it had taken so long, yet so grateful that there WAS actually something. Better yet, it was identifiable and possibly even had a solution.
As your kids began their respective VT programs, what symptoms did they experience and how long did it take for them to resolve?
Their most significant symptoms were skipping words and lines when reading, but also missing smaller words and punctuation. Often, what they read did not make sense due to having skipped part of the sentence, and they did not even notice since their comprehension was minimal. Their handwriting was abysmal, they could not align words or numbers vertically or horizontally, which made math problems nearly impossible. They avoided reading at all costs, even going so far as to make up words that they thought should be next. Amazingly, even their migraines (Ryan) and extreme car sickness (Jacob) were explained through their diagnoses. They began to see improvement within just a few weeks of beginning VT, first with their tracking and clarity of text on the page. Within a few months, the migraines and car sickness were gone, and both began to see improvement in their reading. It was hard work for them, but I felt like we were experiencing a miracle.
When we were setting up this interview, you described your post VT kids and ‘different kids’. Might you elaborate?
I never thought my boys were socially impaired prior to VT, but afterward, they have truly blossomed. They are more engaged in their classes, with their friends and in conversations in general. We realized that both boys were deficient in vocabulary, since their writing and conversation usually consisted of short sentences with more simple language. They now fully engage in conversations, exhibit higher level thinking and are more socially confident. I had not realized how much their visual impairments had hampered their overall interaction with the world until I saw them begin to truly experience it.
Has VT improved your overall family life?
To say that VT has changed our lives for the better is a gross understatement. I can tell you in all sincerity that it has given my boys their lives back. Where they were previously hampered by their impairments, they are now without limits. Neither of the boys had passed a test on their own since Elementary school, standardized testing was torture, and they hated school. After Vision Therapy, they are on grade level, their grades are climbing and their confidence is soaring. Ryan made a 97 on a recent English midterm, and Jacob gained 4 grade levels in reading in one semester. Dare I say homework is even easy now? Because of his very low tracking and spatial relations, Jacob had not been able to successfully play sports like his older brother, Ryan. He literally did not have the ability to track and catch a beach ball, much less a baseball. Watching them now play catch together, I realize that this simple exercise is the perfect example of their accomplishments.
Since your kids graduated VT, you have been a proud advocate for the benefits of Vision Therapy. Why has carrying this torch been so important for you?
When your children struggle in school or “can’t read,” that isn’t something you usually volunteer in general conversation. Once we learned that our sons did actually have verifiable, identifiable impairments, and especially that these could be improved, or even corrected, through Vision Therapy, the truth was too important not to share. Especially given that these issues are common, and present in approximately 25% of the K-6th grade population, I began to tell our story to friends and teachers. I was astounded at the number of friends who asked to know more, saying, “this sounds just like my child/grandchild/friend.” In the last two years since my sons’ diagnoses, I have spoken to the parents of over 80 students, most from my own circle of friends, and most of whose children have now been evaluated for vision related learning impairments. Considering the number of students I have reached as only one voice, I continue to ask, how many are there? Students struggle unnecessarily every day as my boys did, giving their best effort in school but not understanding why others can successfully do what they cannot. Their learning, confidence and self-esteem all suffer. Their parents struggle daily, wanting nothing more than to help their child, but not knowing how. Vision Therapy has been the best, most priceless gift we will ever give our children, and there is nothing in the world like sharing it with parents and seeing the light dawn in their eyes when they realize their story is just like ours.
Lastly, for parents reading this who may be skeptical of Vision Therapy, or perhaps have been told by another profession that VT is a ‘waste of time’, what would your advice be?
I would tell them that there is only one way to know for certain why their child struggles, and whether VT will help them, and that is to have a comprehensive visual evaluation with a Developmental Optometrist certified in Vision Therapy. I was surprised to learn that a few of the very professions we would take our children to for these concerns are often the ones who dispute the validity of VT without research or a second thought. I had a phone conversation with a Pediatric Opthalmologist previously about my boys, and was explaining that they were patients at UIW and seeing great improvement. She replied that if I wanted to credit their improvement to VT it was my prerogative, but that VT was generally a waste of time and money. I persisted, and offered to bring my boys to her for assessment, but she was not interested. She asked, “if Vision Therapy worked, don’t you think we ALL would be doing it?” Yes, I answered sadly, yes I do.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Wendy for taking the time to share her story and the success of her children. Since learning about VT, Wendy continues as a strong advocate for children who may be challenged by learning related visual issues. Please join me in wishing Wendy and her family the absolute best! 🙂