Katie Johnson Speaks About Children's Vision at Brookside Elementary School

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On January 28, the Brookside Elementary School PTA hosted a presentation by Katie Johnson, author of Red Flags for Primary Teachers, 27 Neurodevelopmental and Vision Issues with Activities to Help. Parents and teachers attending learned surprising and helpful information about the 25% of elementary children who need help with reading because of their vision.

The Purple Balance game, one of several the parents played on January 28, which helps with focus (keeping the eyes steady) and with balance (monitored by the body's vestibular system).

My daughter tilts her head to the left when she reads. Is that a problem for her?

"How long does it take your second-grader to do his 20-minute homework assignment? Or your fourth-grader to do her 30 minutes of math homework?" These were some of the questions Katie Johnson asked the parents in attendance. The answers ranged from "...about twenty minutes..." to "My fourth grader never finishes within three hours." That parent rolled her eyes, shook her head and replied, "I don't get it, because I know she's not stupid. She is beginning to think she is, though."

This exchange, between Katie Johnson and the parents at the PTA meeting, brought nods from several other parents.

"It shouldn't take that long," Katie continued, directing her answer to the fourth-grader's mother. "It's possible that she has some issues with her vision. Does she ever squint or rub her eyes? Do you notice that she seems to be tilting her head? Any complaint of headaches? Does she talk about words getting blurry?"

There were a few nods. "These are ways that children respond to the task of reading when their eyes are not teaming together. Believe it or not, there are 25% of elementary children who have some problem with their eye-teaming or tracking print." Katie advised this mother to watch her daughter as she reads. "She may need some professional help from a developmental optometrist."

Katie told several stories of how children have tried to describe to her how their eyes were working: the words blur, or move up and down in a zigzag, or fade in and out, changing from black to gray as the child tries to read. "One of my best teachers was a little girl named Alexandra," she told the parents. When Katie asked Alexandra what the words were doing when she was trying to read, the eight-year-old answered calmly, "Well, they just move across the page and then fall into the middle of the book. Don't they do that when you read?" Alexandra did vision therapy for several months with a developmental optometrist and is now a successful sophomore in college.

After a discussion of symptoms to watch for, the parents played with several games that, while they won't fix a severe problem with eye-tracking or eye-teaming, may help strengthen the eye muscles needed for tracking print. Most of these games and activities are included in Katie Johnson's book, Red Flags for Primary Teachers.

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