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Friday, September 16, 2011

The Gifts We Have--Part 3

Today, is the final installment of Staci Stalling's journey with her son's dyslexia. It is in this account where she shares the therapy which made all the difference for him. It is also a reminder to all of us why God tells us Judgement is His. Only He knows all the facts. Staci saw, through her son, a glimpse of her son's challenge that hadn't been revealed to her earlier. 

The Gifts We Have...
Part 3
In January of my son's second grade year, God spoke to me in three unmistakable messages--one from my mom, one from a "random" flyer sent home from school, and one from a note on my table.  All pointed me to a local doctor who specializes in Vision Therapy.  I had never heard of it, and at first I was skeptical.  We were already covered up with homework, and with two other kids, I didn't have time to take on something else.  But I know God, and when He wants me to do something, He will send three messages.  So I went to that first meeting and then signed up for their free screening.
The first free screening turned up some anomalies in my son's vision, so they sent us to the eye doctor to see if he needed glasses.  He did not.  Back at VT for the extended, three-hour testing, we found (and I finally got to see) more anomalies.  Like the fact that my son couldn't follow a ball with his eyes while answering simple questions like how to spell his name.  His eyes would literally start shaking so violently, I could see it from across the room.

After each test, he would sit back and rub his eyes as they turned red and watered.  I had seen him do that thousands of times.  I always thought it was just him. Never would I have guessed it was because his eyes were struggling so hard to work.  Other tests turned up other issues--like his near-to-far focus time.  He could focus near, and he could focus far (think, look down at your paper and then up at the board, and then back down at your paper to copy something from the board).  Each refocus would take progressively longer.  So the first shift in focus might take 5 seconds, the second 10, the third 15, the fourth 20...

Suddenly, those words written across the tops of so many papers, "This was written on the board"  And "He copied this from the board" (with a word circled that was spelled wrong) came into sharp focus for me!  How long was it taking him to try to copy something one letter at a time from the board?  You try it.  Pick a word.  Look up and count to five.  Now look down and count to 10 and write the first letter.  Now look up and count to 15, now look down, count to 20 and write the second letter.  How much was he missing as he diligently tried to get this done?


We had a lot of "no wonder" moments.  No wonder he kept "being distracted."  When he was reading, it would go like this: "The boy took the... Mom, guess what Mrs. Jager said today."  "We'll talk about that later.  Read."  He puts his gaze back on the book "The boy went to the barn to...  Guess what Emmy did on the playground."  Talk about FRUSTRATING!  But now, I understood.  His eyes were literally working SO hard, they had to have a break.  It was like his whole system was screaming, "OVERLOAD! OVERLOAD! Overheating, must take a break!"

In fact, that's exactly what the "spells" in first grade had been.  His system got so overloaded that it had to shut down for a few seconds or even a minute to avoid complete meltdown.  The spells weren't causing the reading trouble, the reading trouble was causing the spells.  And it all went right back to his eyes which were not working the way they were supposed to be.

Picture this.  You are going to get into shape.  So you go to the gym and go over to the fifty pound weights.  Now you haven't worked out in forever, but these are the weights you "should" be able to lift.  So you do--or at least you try.  How likely are you to succeed at that?  How likely are you to hurt yourself?  How likely are you to want to do it again and again and again?  Would you if you thought everyone was looking at you and judging you if you couldn't lift them?  Or might you find other excuses to get out of doing it so everyone wouldn't know you couldn't?  What tactics would you employ to give yourself a "break" while you were trying to lift what you couldn't?

That's exactly what was happening with my son (and I'm guessing countless others).  He was trying to "lift that 50 pounds" because everyone expected him to. But the truth was, his eyes simply were not strong enough to do so.

This eye-strength connection also explains why these problems tend to be genetic.  My two siblings, I know only now, struggled with this same problem (and barely made it through school without full-blown dyslexia themselves).  At least four of my husband's siblings also struggled with this.  So much so that I remember the stories of his mom spending hours each night reading each of them their homework.  At the time, being a reader myself, I thought that was horrible. They should have read it on their own.  Now I understand. They simply couldn't, and she had no recourse or resources to do much of anything about it.

So, bottom line is, my son's eye muscles were extremely weak.  His eyes did not converge like they are supposed to.  They would shake when he was trying to read something--especially something with very small print.  They would "jump" back and forth across a line of type so that he didn't read the last word, or he would skip words, or leave words out, or repeat words.  Near-to-far focus was also a problem as was making accurate visual maps of things.  He could not look at a picture and then turn the page and draw what he had seen.  Once it was gone, it was gone.  

In spelling, this meant he had no visual image of the words.  He couldn't "see" them in his mind.  That's why, when we tried to spell in the van in the mornings, he would refuse to spell the words.  He couldn't see them, and he couldn't write them down, so he couldn't spell them.  (Dumb me thought he was being obstinate!  Hello, 50-pound weight!)  It was the same with the words he read.  Suddenly, the fact that he was trying to memorize the same words three times--once to read them, once to write them, and once to spell them, as if they were three separate words, made sense.  So did the fact that to that point, he could read words he couldn't spell, but he could also spell words he couldn't read.  That never made sense to me.  Now it was starting to.

I have to say as much as his eye therapy helped him, it helped me equally.  I finally understood he wasn't being lazy.  He wasn't trying to be distracted.  He wasn't trying to test my patience. There were real, physical challenges he was experiencing, and we needed to work on them and fix them as much as possible for him to be able to do this.  So, we started with the 1-pound weights with the new eye exercises and started working our way up to what he "should be able to do."

And the results were nearly instantaneous.  He went from mid-80's in spelling to mid-to-high 90's and even a couple of tests over 100 due to bonus words.  Tests that would have been disasters, in the 65-magnitude before, were now low 90's.  In the van, he could spell the words accurately and fast. He went from struggling through 18 easy pages of reading a night to 55-average easy pages of reading a night (in 20 minutes).  He was finally starting to READ instead of stumble around.

We continued our intensive at-home reading and added in the home therapy, which are basically little exercises for the eyes that take about 10 minutes a day to accomplish.  Eye therapy has just become a way of life around here.  In fact, my older daughter (16), who had incredible reading challenges of her own in fourth grade, has now begun eye therapy as well.

She has one eye that doesn't turn in like it's supposed to.  For a long time she read by moving her head, and she had horrible headaches all the time.  Glasses helped once the eye doctor agreed to give her starter glasses (and before we knew about eye therapy).  But the eye therapy is turning up issues we didn't even know were problems--other than she had great difficulty doing simple things like catching a ball or transferring things from one hand to the other.  Now we know... it was her eyes that were the problem all the time!

Toward the end of school with my son, we went back and started the Hooked on Phonics program again.  He went through all six levels (two he had never been able to do) in about six weeks.  His final six week Language Arts grade was a 95.  Even more importantly, I see the confidence in reading he's gaining.  We can now sit down and read for nearly an hour with only a few distractions.  He can focus on what he's reading so that he gets the jokes and thinks the stories are funny.  He's finally enjoying them.

He's learning to "chop" long words, and we're tackling those last few letter combinations he's having trouble with. Finally it's not ALL of them!

Best of all, his wonderful little personality is back.  He's happy. He makes up stories and plays for us again.  He's creative and excited about life.  His new big thing for the summer is the bunny trap he's set up in the backyard to try to catch an unsuspecting rabbit.  I thank vision therapy and God for lighting our way through this unbelievable darkness.  As a parent, I can't tell you how lonely I felt so many nights as I tried to figure out what was going on, praying that somehow we would find something that would help.

So to parents out there who are struggling with their dyslexic son or daughter, please know, there is hope.  And to all of you who have this challenge in your life, know that there are answers.  It's not "just you."  You are not "stupid."  In fact, you have many, many gifts wired into you as well as this challenge.  Please know that you have my respect for getting this far and not giving up.  Know also that God has a plan for you, and He's right there with you.  He will lead you to your answers if you will take His hand and trust Him to show you.

The gifts we have, we are given to share.  I believe that.  As a parent of a son who is on the cusp of being a "former-dyslexic," I want to pass on the gift of knowledge that we have gained about Vision Therapy.  It is truly one of the best gifts I have ever received!

To see Parts One and Two of this moving story:

The Gifts We Have

The Gifts We Have--Part 2

A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from.  Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again.  Every title is a new adventure!  That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading.  Although she lives in Amarillo, Texas and her main career right now is her family, Staci touches the lives of people across the globe every week with her various Internet endeavors including:
Spirit Light Moments -- One moment with God each day

Facebook Author Page at:

Search Staci's Books:

Spirit Light Books--The Blog


Follow Staci on Twitter @StaciStallings

Come on over for a visit…

You’ll feel better for the experience!


  1. Hi Staci,
    Your son sounds like a real trooper. I'm so glad he got the help he needed. Thanks for sharing. This will help others.

  2. Staci, As a retired elementary teacher, I was fascinated by your story. I wonder how many kids I encountered over the years who suffered from the same problem as your child. You are to be commended for your patience and perseverance.

  3. @Gail You've got that right. The whole time my mom kept saying how amazed she was that he just kept working at it. So am/was I!

    @June Me too. I taught high school, and I know dead-on of one girl I helped. She was even a relative, so doubly possible. As for the patience and perseverance, most of that was God holding me up! I leaned on Him a LOT over that time!

  4. Staci, I can't thank you enough for coming to tell us this story. As you know from the emails I've been forwarding to you, many people have been blessed by your sharing this experience. Thank you so much!!! And please come back when your next book comes out. I'm sure many will relate to the story of a young man with dyslexia.

  5. This is SO interesting. Makes me think. Sometimes my son has trouble reading and he's in 1st grade. I will keep an eye on him. THanks so much for sharing!

  6. My son in in 2nd grade and as a result of your article on Connie's site and a recommendation from a friend I went to see a doc. Sure enough, he needs vision therapy. All this time I have been expecting him to do the nearly impossible. Thank you for sharing, you are a tool in God's hands:-)

  7. MH I haven't been back here to read the comments but I so hope your son has found the answer by now. I hope he is no longer struggling... or at least not as much. My little guy is about to pull off the unthinkable... going from barely being able to read to 3 straight 6 weeks with straight A's! And you should HEAR him spell now... it's literally like he's a different kid! So glad the article helped. Blessings and Peace...

  8. Hi ...i know this is an old blog...but i'm wondering what your thoughts are on the info Susan Barton lists about vision Therapy...I am currently using her program also, but the progress is very painful still...i am considering VT but have been strongly discourage by Susan to pursue that path...Also, i am considering an at home VT program offered by a therapist in MN but am not sure i will be able to administer it successfully? Any thoughts on that?

    Thanks, Heather

    1. Heather, since I've never done VT with my autistic son--he just isn't verbal enough to follow the directions--I can't answer this. But I have emailed Staci (the author of this post) to see if she can. However, my friends who used VT as a result of this blog post found it invaluable!!! Cannot say enough. One told me her son said he now wanted to try harder because he finally knows he's not stupid. Evidently he'd given up before. His mother posted about their results on this site. See The Gentle King. http://livingthebodyofchrist.blogspot.com/2012/01/gentle-kingby-monika-holt.html. Thanks for checking it out. I truly pray you find the answers that are best for your child!!!

    2. Heather,

      Susan's program was the first thing I found after the ah-ha moment of realizing my son had dyslexia. We had been TRYING to do Hooked on Phonics for six months. Unbeknownst to me, he was literally MEMORIZING every page. It was well into the 4th book that I realized that he wasn't reading at all. Dyslexia was the only thing that made sense. I went online typed in "dyslexia solutions" and came to Susan's site.

      She had a video there about signs of dyslexia. I watched the whole thing straight through and FINALLY I knew what was wrong. I ordered several parts of her program, and they helped a lot. But he was still struggling, and he hated reading. That was in July-September of 2010. In December 2010, God showed me very concretely in ways only God can that VT was the next step.

      So I went and had my son tested. He was off the charts in memorizing and barely functional in eye movement. His eyes would literally shake when he tried to follow my finger and count to ten or spell his name. He could think or he could move his eyes but not both.

      We enrolled him in VT. The at-home exercises were not hard but not always fun--because you're working new muscles. But they worked. Big time. By the end of that year, he had straight A's on his report card. He got straight A's for all of 3rd grade.

      This year in fourth, he seemed to struggle a lot early on because the "jump" in difficulty was so great. I was a little afraid we were going to go backward, and he still didn't like to read.

      Then, about six weeks ago, I promised him a laptop if he would read 100 books--any books easy or hard. He struggled a lot at first. Then for Lent I got out a very easy to read Bible that's literally for toddlers. He struggled with the first story--because in his head this was going to be hard. The second story was better. The third one he read straight through and was amazed it wasn't hard.

      Within 3 weeks we had read all 40 stories and his laptop was on its way. Although I thought he might go backward again, this time he started reading on his own, which he'd not done much of before. Now I can tell he reads differently in his schoolwork. It is not the struggle that it was. He's almost finished with his first on-his-own chapter book.

      So what I would say is, it is not this OR that. It's this AND that. If you think VT might help, get your child tested. That can't hurt, and if eye issues are playing a part in this, doing everything else and NOT VT is not going to fix it.

      That's my very best advice from someone who has been there. I absolutely think that with some coaching and guidance you can do the therapy at home, and if my heart was telling me to get my child tested, no one could talk me out of it!

      Best of luck finding the right keys for your child!