Why Does My Student Struggle?

by | Sep 7, 2021 | Educational Resources, Teaching Strategies, VPD | 0 comments

One of the most frustrating things for both teachers and families is to have a struggling student and not know how to help. In fact, sometimes we don’t even realize a student is struggling!

With some kids, it is very obvious they need help – it’s written all over their faces. Others will just tell you.

Unfortunately, some students don’t know they are struggling. Sometimes they perform well enough that their difficulties go unnoticed – until they get older and the work becomes more difficult.

In the case of my child, he did well in school – except for reading. At the same time, he enjoyed being read to – just not reading by himself. As he got older, I noticed other things, like copying things incorrectly from a distance. However, it wasn’t until he started taking standardized tests that I actually realized there was something wrong. It took some time, but he was eventually diagnosed with a vision processing disorder.

Vision processing deals with the communication between the eyes and the brain, as well as eye focusing and teaming. There are a number of different VPDs, and every person affected can have a different combination.

According to studies, there are about 3 – 5 students in every classroom who have undiagnosed vision processing disorders. How can teachers and families help these students?

Possible Warning Signs Of VPDs

So how can we tell if a student is struggling with a vision processing disorder? Although there aren’t any signs that are 100% accurate, there are some things teachers and parents can watch for when their student is working. 

Here are a few behaviors that might indicate a child is struggling with a vision processing disorder:

  • Cannot distinguish similar shapes & letters. ex. b, d; circles, ovals
  • Cannot pick out a person or shape seen against a background.
  • Difficulty remembering order of letters and numbers. 
  • Skipping words or lines while reading, or reversing words.
  • Running into things; uncoordinated.
  • When they throw a ball or shoot a basket, the ball doesn’t go where they are aiming.
  • Cannot tell where things are in relation to each other. 
  • Difficulty judging time.
  • Cannot remember what was seen after it is removed. 
  • Difficulty remembering what was read.
  • Cannot recognize incomplete images. ex. Does not recognize a truck without wheels.
  • Reverses letters and symbols. (Normal in young children, but may be a sign of a VPD after the age of 7.)
  • Covers one eye when working or reading – could lay head on their desk, put hair over one eye, cover eye with hand, etc.
  • Student can explain information orally but not write it down; discrepancy between auditory knowledge and written performance.

Just remember that discovering an underlying learning issue is tricky. You might discover clues, but it is important to get a professional evaluation to confirm your suspicions. Sometimes things could indicate a number of things, while it may also be nothing.

What to Do If You Suspect a VPD

Vision processing disorders are not detected by a common vision screening. In addition, many states do not screen for VPDS in schools. To schedule an evaluation, families should contact a vision specialist – not an ophthalmologist.

In the meantime, what can teachers and families do to help? Here are a few ideas:

  • If you are a teacher, submit the student for screening. Talk with your coordinator and meet with the family. Do not diagnose the student. Instead, tell the family the behaviors you have noticed in the classroom that you believe may indicate the student is struggling.
  • Talk one-on-one with the student, and check their understanding through discussion.
  • Ask your student what happens when they read. Someone struggling with a VPD doesn’t realize that other people don’t see things the same way – which is why they don’t know to ask for help. For some people, the letters and words seem to float on the page. Others have trouble with their eyes jumping around. Having a gentle conversation – perhaps a question here or there – might give you insight into what is happening.
  • Have students read texts in different sizes and spacing. In my son’s case, I was told he was about a year behind in reading. When I worked with him, he easily read a book with vocabulary above his grade level, but struggled with another book below grade level. When I compared the different texts, I realized that the new book had larger words with generous spacing between the lines. (That was one of my first clues that something was wrong.) 
  • Try overlays in different colors. According to our vision specialist, some patients find specific colored overlays help them read – but not always the same color. (They did not help my son – and they are not a replacement for therapy even if they do help.)

The good news about vision processing disorders is that they can be corrected with therapy. We just have to help inform teachers and families on VPD and how to get help. Please help spread awareness by sharing this post with your friends and coworkers.

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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