A few days ago, my eight-year-old, John Paul, called Emre to the bathroom as he was getting ready for bed. "Dad, watch this!" At which point John Paul, standing still and stone-faced, rolled his eyes in a zany manner: back and forth, up and down, around... Typical child silliness, right? The type of thing most of us take for granted or may even grow annoyed with from our young'uns?
Not so this night, in this instance, with this child. Once done with his eye-socket aerobics J.P. eagerly asked, "Did you see my whole head move or just my eyes?" Emre answered, "Just your eyes!" John Paul countered, "When I was little I couldn't do that; my eyes were too dry and they stayed stuck. I'd have to move my whole head, like this."
You see, John Paul was diagnosed with Convergence Insufficiency last February. Convergence Insufficiency is a disorder which interferes with an individual's binocular vision, and is often undiagnosed as it is possible to have 20/20 vision and still suffer from CI. (If you have never heard of this disorder, I encourage you to follow this link, particularly if your child has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having ADD, ADHD, or exhibits difficulty or reluctance in reading.)
I'd suspected that John Paul had visual perception issues; I found a Behavioral Optometrist, and she was the one who diagnosed the problem. (Prior to this, he had passed the vision exams at his pediatrician's office, and he had scored in the average range for visual perception when an Occupational Therapist tested him.) Since February, I have been taking him to Vision Therapy each week. We start each day with his homework from said Vision Therapist.
As in all things, some days there are battles of wills between my son and I over this need. I have come to understand that the work is difficult for him, and requires a lot of effort and energy on his part. Typical of me, I've struggled with guilt for having not caught this sooner, for teaching him at home and growing frustrated at his distraction and his oft-outright anger if asked to read. I have learned that when his eyes leave a page as we read, it isn't because he was "unfocused" or blandly "uninterested" or intending to be defiant. It is because the written words on his page looked like the examples shown here.
He has always tired quickly doing school work. In his first grade year, I began to believe the lousy O.T. I'd had him visiting (the same one who dismissively said his Visual Perception score was fine), and blamed myself for not pushing him hard enough, for not conditioning him to act like kids in "real" schools (like the one she worked at, part-time). That O.T. was gravely wrong (not to mention biased against homeschooling). John Paul's fatigue was real, not imagined; it was an obstacle he needed help to overcome, not an "excuse" to be disciplined out of him.
I have squandered a lot of energy beating myself up for not knowing these things sooner, for not teaching him better, earlier. This week's bathroom conversation with Emre assuaged my deepest fears: I am getting the job done. We are getting the job done. John Paul sees improvement in himself, and his confidence is increasing.
Another case in point: we'd spent all of last month writing thank you cards for his First Holy Communion (and I am embarrassed to admit that no, I still have not mailed them; they sit on the bookshelf, waiting for stamps). To say this project was an undertaking would be an understatement; he could not write on a regular glossy-card; as a leftie, he smudged the words he'd written, and the cards were too small for him to properly and neatly fit his words. (He also works with an Occupational Therapist, now a far better one, to improve his fine and gross motor skills.) He was immediately frustrated and despairing when we tried the traditional card approach.
Rather than argue or cajole him into using the Thank You Cards we'd bought, I gave him the option of using lined paper and decorating that like stationary. This was the approach he settled on. We worked out a system in which he wrote 2-3 notes a day, an unprecedented amount of writing for him. It took over 3 weeks, but in the end he'd written a card for every gift he'd received. Wrapped into this commitment were lessons on manners and gratitude, how to show love... and how to not quit.
|The fruit of John Paul's labor.|
We have discovered what it takes.
Endurance. Perseverance. Fortitude. Hope. Faith. Forgiveness. Charity. All of these virtues and possibly more, on both our parts, but perhaps sometimes more so on mine; he takes his cues from me, after all. Children are not innately born knowing how to be these things. At day's start and day's end, I am the model he looks to in learning how to react. If I give up, he will too. If I grow disheartened, so too will he.
All of this is more than I am capable of on my own. The virtues are not strong in me; I lean on God to grant the grace I need to grow in each one. So in counting our successes, I am quick to count my blessings and say: God's grace is sufficient.