Children whose academic performance is significantly advanced compared to others their age are categorized as gifted. Yet, educators who work with children and teens identified as Gifted and Talented understand that though these students may be exceptional in some academic work, they may struggle to learn in other areas of study. It can be extremely hard to identify these kids as their giftedness can allow them to compensate in the areas in which they struggle. They are also most likely to work extra hard to compensate for a learning dysfunction they are intuitively aware of but struggle to express to parents or teachers. These kids are often referred to as Twice Exceptional.
Mitch was identified as Gifted and Talented as early as First Grade. This isn’t surprising considering he was reading by the age of two. But by middle school, he began acting out at school and at home. His pediatrician diagnosed him with ADD/ADHD and prescribed medication.
Mitch’s mom, Denise, says, “As parents, we resisted medicating Mitch. But by 6th grade, we felt out of options. We just needed something to help us get through social situations, school, and the acting out.”
However, Denise, still didn’t feel right about the ADD diagnosis. When he advanced to his Freshman year, his struggles seemed to grow.
Hitting The Wall
“He could verbally answer homework questions with me just fine,” Denise says, “but he would break into tears when I asked him to write it down. It seemed like a temper tantrum.”
She says his eye doctor gave Mitch proper prescription lenses but never picked up on any vision issues. School testing continued to give no answers.
“I always felt like something just wasn’t right but couldn’t put my finger on it,” says Denise. Mitch, a self-professed math and science geek, went to one 3D movie and never wanted to go see another. He got motion sickness all the time. He expressed no interest in wanting to learn to drive. They had to find as many of his schoolbooks as possible as audio downloads because he could learn by listening.
But these cues are difficult to connect if you don’t know that visual performance skills are different than 20/20 sight. Kids who suffer don’t realize that they are seeing things differently than everyone else. They don’t know how to express the problem with how their eyes are functioning.
Finally, after a friend heard Denise’s concerns, she referred her to Highline Center for Vision Performance (HCVP). They quickly made an appointment to take advantage of the complimentary Vision Performance Screening.
“Mitch lit up when they began asking him questions,” says Denise of the initial consultation with HCVP. “I could see his relief that someone finally understood. His self-esteem improved almost immediately just knowing that he could be helped.”
Tests went on to reveal that Mitch’s reading efficiency were at a 3rd grade level. His tracking speed (one of 20 measurable visual skills) was higher – at an 8th grade speed – but at only 50% comprehension. In order to achieve “quality” comprehension, he dropped down to a 5th grade speed. It’s no wonder he struggled with his high school studies!
Denise was thrilled with her visit to Highline and with Mitch’s response. However, the family pediatrician thought Vision Therapy was fake and discouraged them from participating. Regardless, Denise was certain they were on the right track and moved forward with Vision Therapy anyway.
Mitch was highly motivated to do his Vision Therapy homework and graduated within five months at which point his reading efficiency was at grade level 13.6 (a freshman in college) and his reading comprehension went up to 90%.
Denise says, “About ¾ of the way through Vision Therapy, he was able to complete schoolwork in the classroom so he was bringing home less work. It was amazing! His eye muscles were keeping up with his intelligence. Everything in school is easier now. There are no more meltdowns.”
Now, Mitch is a typical teenager eager to drive and loves seeing movies in 3D. His writing has improved dramatically and he continues successfully in his school’s Gifted and Talented program.
Currently, Mitch’s pediatrician still believes Vision Therapy is a hoax and that Mitch just outgrew his ADD.
Denise believes that Mitch’s behavioral issues were related to his undiagnosed vision disorders. They are currently considering taking him off his medication.
“His medication is a non-stimulant and is short lived in his system,” says Denise. “Before Vision Therapy, we could always tell at the end of the day that it was wearing off because that’s when his behavior would change. However now, we don’t have the meltdowns anymore and Mitch has confessed that he often doesn’t take it over the weekends anymore and we don’t even notice.”
Highline, often sees students who have vision disorders and are misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD. In Mitch’s case, Dr. Jeri Schneebeck is convinced that Mitch’s acting out was from his frustration.
“You have this incredibly intelligent person who is trying so hard to keep up with his peers and failing – it’s no surprise that he had outbursts,” says Dr. Jeri. “Once we begin improving vision skills by teaching the eyes and brain to coordinate, it’s like a weight is removed and he can finally move forward. It’s a joy to see.”
“The frustration and inability to communicate that there is a problem is simply overwhelming to these kids,” adds Nancy Stevens, Vision Therapist at HCVP. “But we find, time and time again, that once they successfully complete Vision Therapy, they are happier in every facet of their lives. The ability to successfully learn opens up their future in incredible ways.”
Mitch’s mom, Denise, continues to be a vocal advocate for Vision Therapy and shares her story frequently with other parents who have smart kids that struggle in school.