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"I don't know what to tell you.... your child can't read"

Updated on June 23, 2012

Cross dominance? Auditory Processing Problems? Dyslexia? My smart child can't read?

When our son was born he was a long awaited joy. He was hoped for and prayed for. He was loved and cherished.

Riley was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. The first nephew in a family that didn't have any nieces either.

We were all so proud of him and marvelled at how alert and intelligent he was right from the start. Some commented that he was an 'old soul' while mostly we rejoiced in every milestone he blitzed in his stride as he quickly grew, crawled, walked and began talking.

During pre-school I fretted that Riley was too young to be plunged into school... he still seemed so little being one of the youngest in his class. His pre-school teacher, however, was dismissive of the notion. Riley, she smilingly told me, had the best conceptual development in the class.

In grade one he was quickly moved into the top reading group. An obviously smart little boy, even to those of us who weren't dotingly bias, there was no hint that one day a label such as dyslexic would be added to his persona.

We read his home readers together, worked on sight words and diligently encouraged him to learn.

Half yearly report time came and I turned up for the parent teacher interview to hear all the glowing news about my little boy. The teacher looked slightly perplexed. "I don't know what to tell you" she began, "I've tested Riley. He's in the top reading group and he can't read".

Riley and his rocket in preschool.
Riley and his rocket in preschool.

Behavioural Optometrist

There must be a simple explanation.

I was grateful to be referred to a Behavioural Optometrist by the school. It worries me that many children may end up at an 'ordinary' optometrist and be told, simply, that their eyes are working perfectly. Riley has optimum eyesight. There is nothing wrong with his vision.

The behavioural optometrist did a series of exercises appropriate to his age. At this stage she diagnosed that Riley was Cross Dominant. This meant that from a 'doing things' point of view his left eye was dominant and his right hand was dominant.

A signal to see if this is happening with your child is to have them look through a tube or hold a camera to their eye to take a photo. A cross dominant person will hold the camera with their right hand up to their left eye.

I was assured that I shouldn't worry. Things might just take a little longer for Riley to 'kick in' while his brain figured out how to cross the midline.

I asked for Riley to repeat grade one. I felt he was missing the basic foundations he needed to continue. He was moved forward into grade 2. Riley was deemed, simply, too clever to repeat.

smart dyslexic 2
smart dyslexic 2

Moments of Brilliance.

"Mum", asked Riley when he was in grade one, "why do we read the same home reader all week?"

"Well", I answered, "when you see a word like 'the' over and over again you get to know that those letters read 'the'. T-H-E. The".

"Oh!" he rejoined, obviously delighted he understood the concept, "so if I see the word 'carapace'" (and here he made an attempt to spell the word as I had done) "then next time I see the word in a book I'll know straight away what it is?!"

Ummm.... yes!

I went off, quite bemused, to look up 'carapace in a dictionary.



a bony or chitinous shield, test, or shell covering some or all of the dorsal part of an animal, as of a turtle.

Dictionary definition.

smart dyslexic 1
smart dyslexic 1

"He's such a deep thinker..."

Grade 2, a dynamic year.

Riley's teacher in grade two was very dynamic. She was passionate and expressive. Learning about the outdoors included setting up a tent city in the playground and healthy eating habits meant cooking a soup with more vegetables than the children could count (and a prize for finding a certain pasta letter in the bottom of your bowl!).

Riley was moved to the front to the classroom to help keep his focus. He was such a "deep thinker", the teacher remarked, that he was often found staring out the window deep in thought. I didn't realise until he entered a 'quiet' classroom in grade three that Riley had simply shut down to cope with the overwhelming stimulus of his grade 2 classroom.

Meanwhile, his literacy continued to falter with no extra input from the school. Riley was the last child to learn all his sight words which we achieved by chanting them as we walked to school. He didn't know how to read the words but he could remember them all in sequence.

I started noticing more and filing away 'little things' with concern. When we passed another child in the playground who gave Riley a cheery "good morning Riley!" he showed no response or recognition.

At the parent teacher interview the teacher made mild reference to possible mild autistic traits or some type of dyslexia. They were passing comments with no real concern connected. There was certainly no diagnosis and I, admittedly, wasn't one to rush into attaching a label to my child for the convenience of others.

Towards the end of the year I visited the teacher in tears. "Riley needs to repeat" was my plea. This teacher took the matter seriously and strode off to discuss the matter with powers that be within the school. There was a period of review and assessment and I was called for a meeting.

Riley was simply too clever to hold back from grade 3. It seems his inability to read or spell was a minor detail in his overall results.

smart dyslexic 6
smart dyslexic 6

Moments of Brilliance.

Riley's grade 2 teacher was leaning out the window as we walked across the oval to the classroom.

"This child!" she was calling with excitement, "This child!".

It transpired that the previous day the class had watched a dvd on sharks. It was about a grade 6 level.

When the dvd was finished the teacher asked the class expectantly what they had just learned. She was greeted by blank looks from everyone... except "This child!", Riley. The teacher wanted to know if Riley's father was into sharks (he's because Riley raised his hand and proceeded to expound his knowledge of shark cartilage.

"Where did you learn that?" she asked him with astonishment.

"It was on the dvd" Riley responded.

At this point in the story I cupped my hand over my mouth and said with a smile but in a hushed tone to the teacher "Stupid!"

Riley is, or has learnt to be, very visual. He can regurgitate movies and stories very readily. He talks a lot and I believe this is his way of processing the world around him and making sense of what he sees and hears.

smart dyslexic 4
smart dyslexic 4

Auditory Processing.

The missing link?

In the first three weeks of grade 3 I noticed a surge in Riley's achievements. The noticeable difference was the classroom environment. In stark contrast to the previous year this class was very quiet and ordered. In hindsight I understood Riley's deep thinking and window staring.

We visited the behavioural optometrist again and, being older, Riley was diagnosed with auditory processing problems. This apparently means that what the child hears is not necessarily process by the brain in a coordinated way. Subtle differences between sounds in words aren't detected especially if the child is in a noisy situation.

Some outcome of this are speech, language and academic problems.

I could relate that Riley:

  • Was easily distracted
  • Didn't cope in noisy environments (even finding a shopping mall a bit overwhelming after a short time)
  • Had improved results in quieter settings
  • struggled with reading, spelling, writing, and had less distinct or mumbling speech
  • More information at
  • Kids
  • and also
  • Wikipedia
  • At this stage the school was offering some learning support. I felt that Riley was being hit with more of the same 'stuff' that we already knew he just wasn't getting. Still, it was better than nothing.
  • His teacher found Riley could work better when she provided him a quiet space with few distractions. Some days he actually worked outside the classroom on the verandah area. He would come home telling me of all he had seen there. The detail was amazing and I hoped he got some physical school work done too.
  • What to do?

tomatis method
tomatis method

The Tomatis Listening Program

An Incremental Improvement.

It was at this juncture that someone told me about theTomatis Method. It seemed an exciting option to deal with auditory processing problems as it was an ear retraining program designed to re-educate the ear and awaken listening skills.

Riley was assessed as a candidate for the program and we went every day for about 3 weeks to listen to classical music, mainly Mozart and Gregorian Chant, through a special headset. This music was modified by the Tomatis Listening Device known as the "Electronic Ear". This and other exercises were hoped to enhance clear and fluent speech and allow a flow of information and comprehension that hadn't been previously optimised for Riley.

At the time we did notice improvements. Riley learned to listen better, read better and started having some more successes at school.

As time went by though there was a definite plateau in his literacy. Riley still could not focus well, spell with any reliability or write legibly.

It was distressing for many reasons. Riley remained a well behaved and good mannered child but school held no enjoyment for him. He didn't have the joy of books that my husband and I had both grown up with although he loved hearing stories read to him. His level of literacy stunted his ability to enjoy the books that now interested him.

Although only young and yet to mature into life, Riley had formed a dream of being a fighter pilot .... and I quietly knew that with his english results the dream was impossible.

Pooh Bear by AA Milne:

He respects Owl, because you can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.

smart dyslexic 8
smart dyslexic 8

Grade 4 and 5

More of the same!

Riley coasted along. He still had very poor writing and spelling results although he was now enjoying science in a dedicated science class and holding his own in mathematics. The school was reporting that he was "reading at an age appropriate level". This was very pleasing of itself.

Perhaps this was a tangible result of the Tomatis Method having helped.

In grade 4 his teacher printed off his work for him to trace over. She had quickly recognised that Riley could not focus on writing from the board or keep up in class if left to his own devices.

smart dyslexic 7
smart dyslexic 7


Another boost forward!

Around this time I began visiting a kineseologist. With my own benefits being obvious to me I decided to take Riley. He went about 7 times.

On about the seventh treatment, Riley was very angry. I felt a little sorry for the practitioner who was having a little difficulty with him. I wondered if we had achieved anything.

That week Riley got his first 10 out of 10 in spelling. It was a huge and momentous occasion.

For a while his confidence soared and he was attempting to read more and learn his spelling words. Unfortunately it didn't last long term.

I love kineseology. I think in the short term the treatment was able to diffuse stored up emotions of anger and frustration that Riley had been gathering for years. Perhaps this also contributed to his reading improvements at this time.

It's too late to wonder how things would have progressed if I'd kept taking him. At the time it had run it's course and money was an issue.

Once again we hoped for a miracle. Entering grade 6 his average spelling results in his test were 2 a week - although to be fair to kineseology, Riley had implemented some great avoidance strategies and I was nearly beyond fighting them.

smart dyslexic 10
smart dyslexic 10

Real Hope and Help At Last.

We're right in the middle of this as I type!!

Last month my sister was talking about Riley to a friend at craft. This grandmother thought that Riley sounded a lot like her granddaughter who had gained an amazing amount of help through the Alison Lawson Remedial Dyslexia Therapy.

Browsing their website it was too 'spot on' to ignore. When I read the symptoms it was almost a story of my child, Riley!

About a month ago I made an appointment to have Riley assessed. The closest clinic is an hour and 10 minutes drive away. We are lucky. I thought at first we may have to travel away from home with all the associated cost and logistical problems.

The consultant, Louisa, made a check on the aiming point of Riley's eyes. Where there should be steady binocular fixation of both eyes the fixation of one macula was (as expected) unsteady. It was explained that this is the main cause for the learning problem. While Riley was able to obtain a clear focus at any level of gaze, it could not be maintained. As fixation fails, so does concentration. When there is unsteady or incorrect fixation, the frontal lobe of the brain lays down deep central suppression in the visual cortex (occipital cortex) of the affected eye.

All this sounds a mouthful and I admit I had to use their website to help explain it. If this is sounding interesting I suggest you have a look there for more information.

Riley and I were very excited. This was a scientifically demonstrable explanation for the struggles my clever child was having.

I knew that going into grade 7 Riley was preparing for High School. The stakes would be raised and life would become more difficult for him to keep up.

I committed to the program on the spot hoping to have it over before Christmas. Riley wanted to do it straight away. He didn't want to wait until next year or even next month!

On the drive home

I commented to Riley that there was nothing wrong with his brain, it was an eye problem.

"Yes mum", he responded,

"I'm not stupid!"

The Alison Lawson Clinic Orthoptic and Remedial Eye Therapy

We have been seeing Louisa Liang at Helensvale, south of Brisbane. You can find more information via this website.

doing homework
doing homework

Riley's Experience

Seeing Really Is Believing!

We have had six treatments as I type this tonight. We have four more to go in the next four days. Six trips down and back are over, farming out my other kids to friends, trying to fit 'real' life in around the edges, arriving home after lunch with a seemingly impossible amount of 'homework', having our successes and frustrations.

In turn cajoling, begging, ranting, encouraging, laughing, celebrating, hoping. Really hoping.

I would like to say we're pleased. Maybe happy. Even hopeful.

I think more accurate though would be to say we're excited. Enthused. Hopeful? Oh yes! Tangibly so!

When you're in the middle of something like this it can be hard to see the success as it comes. With this program, not only am I seeing them but Riley is noticing and commenting on them too.

By the third or fourth day his eye had corrected itself. Riley was focusing better. He was definitely on a high and feeling very optimistic.

He was commenting on his writing and how wonderfully he could now write the number '6'. Not something I would have picked!! ;-)

Riley also started commenting that his brother and sister were not aggravating him as much as normal. He wondered if this was as a result of the program.

Riley was very tired. It wasn't all fun. In fact, while he loved visiting Louisa who had a beautiful manner and made him feel very clever and relaxed, there were certain things that he just didn't like doing.

Spelling words, times tables, transcribing, reading. These things all had a negative connotation for Riley and now a lot was being asked and required of him. Sometimes our homework sessions stretched across the day as I encouraged a little more from him to get through it all before bedtime.

Luckily he was mostly old enough to understand how this could help him and we were both seeing improvements in his work that pushed us through. Riley can now do eye exercises that I can't. He recently wrote over 30 spelling words (from a grade 2 to 3 level at this stage) and only got 4 wrong. We were both celebrating! His writing is now legible and he is remembering to leave spaces between his words, add appropriate punctuation, and is spelling most words correctly during his transcription exercises. He has noticed that his times tables have patterns and was delighted when it all started to make sense.

As part of his reading exercises we needed to choose a smaller print book. Riley is now reading Harry Potter, and although he's not enjoying the reading bit very much (it's something he has to do) his reading is very fluent except for the odd word that makes him pause and think. He's settled on this book as he's enjoying the story, albeit, a little at a time. Now to me, this is 'age appropriate'.

Most of all, and perhaps best of all, Riley has hope and a new found confidence. He is already talking about next year and how surprised his teachers are going to be when they see his results. I can encourage his belief congruently as I'm seeing his results now and am confident of more improvement in the coming months.

dyslexia finished
dyslexia finished

The 10 day program is over!

Today was a day of re-assessment and taking stock.

Riley's results are amazing! His eyes are functioning perfectly. Focusing at all focal points and pulling between each one with ease. There is no faulter in his gaze as he goes through his paces, so to speak.

The results of the visual tests that were part of his original diagnosis all showed marked improvements.

Louisa is as excited by Riley's results as we are. She is very happy. We feel the benefits are tangible.

We will continue on with learning exercises and also maintaining the focus and eye muscle strengthening exercises a while longer to ensure all is well.

Riley proudly received a certificate from Louisa for his hard work and success!

As for me... I want to change the title of this page except that would defeat the purpose!

"It is so easy

I don't even have to try anymore".

Riley, at final assessment,

21 December, 2011

What does the future hold?

I'll be sure to leave updates!

If Riley's story is of interest to you please call back. In the coming weeks and months I will be updating his progress here. Our new school year starts in late January.

Riley is already excited as he has been elected the School Science Leader and now is hoping for better things academically as well.

Riley is smart and clever. Like a rose bud I think that, academically, he is blossoming into something incredibly beautiful.

I'll let you know how he goes!


The School Year Begins...

This week Riley returned to school after our 6 week christmas break. Like many kids he wasn't too keen although it's cool he's in grade 7 now and science leader for the year.

I was surprised on Monday afternoon to see him beaming as he hurried towards me. His first day was "GREAT" and of course I asked him why. I wasn't expecting his answer when he told me it was because he'd done a spelling test and got 27 right.

"Wow!" I responded, "Out of what?"

"Seventy! But, mum, they were all hard words and it just felt easy like I knew these ones!".

When I tell other adults this story there is a moment of shock....yes, 27 out of 70 doesn't sound great at first impression. Put into context, though, this is an exciting achievement from a child who last year generally got two of his words right out of 25 in the weekly test.

Monday's result is almost half of the words right (without the benefit of having a week to learn them) and Riley is pleased and excited by his results.

Points for attitude... absolutely!!

Tonight is day 3 and again he's excited. In a random times table test today his results were 39 correct out of 43 questions he had time to answer. That's very terrific!

It's very early days (we haven't even finished week one yet) and what a wonderful start to the school year for Riley.

Week 3

Into the swing of things.

We have had visitors for 3 straight weeks. In this time the kids have been displaced from their beds and returned to school. I haven't been focused on homework and have been amazed at Riley's great attitude in 'getting it done' every day. I haven't had to ask or push him once.

He does his 20 math mentals (and is getting them mostly all right) and his other written homework without comment. He wrote his spelling words into sentences and I was amazed at his neatness and spelling. I actually asked if he'd copied the sentences when I saw he'd used the word 'submerged' and it was written correctly and legibly. "No", he told me "I just wrote it out of my head". I was stunned!

I am going to scan before and after work to add here as you won't believe it's the same child. Unfortunately (being the weekend) his book is at school and I didn't help him learn the words so I don't remember them. One was 'daughter' so not exactly a push over of a word. On monday (pre-test) he got one word right. Today, Riley told me at bedtime with a huge smile, he got 9 of the 10 words correct. He hadn't done more than normal school work and written them once for homework.

How awesome is this?!!!

Week Five

Who's the next Math Master?

Riley's class plays a math game. The teacher asks multiplication table questions and the first to answer correctly moves up a place. Riley was up there this week for his speed at answering correctly. He was one place off being the Math Master and held his position despite being removed from it once.

"Doesn't that feel strange?" I asked him, "To be standing up in front of the class because you're so good at something?"

His smile is a mile wide. It's very strange, he agrees, but a good strange. A great and fabulous strange!

Our new favourite bedtime activity is playing with a multiplication table. Forwards, backward, randomly, divided by and one from another table thrown in from left field. Easy and therefore fun. We can play all day!

Riley is the school Science Leader this year and is taking his responsibilities very seriously. He has just written up a schedule on the computer for a weekly rotating roster for the rest of the year. This will be used so that all the school leaders know when they're responsible for raising the flag and opening the bike storage space. The Deputy OK-ed it and emailed it out to all the leaders.

Riley is also taking his place helping in the sport equipment shed, liaising with lower grade class and next week attending a youth summit in the city.

I can't believe this is my child. I always knew he could do it and to see him blossoming in confidence AND ability is so wonderful.

the rely wird Aasom song - (Page Title Copied from Riley's Grade 6 Music book)

Grade 6 work
Grade 6 work

I have been scratching around looking for samples of Riley's grade 6 work. Eeek! Can't find much and I'm wondering if I threw it all out at the end of the school year. Honestly there wasn't much worthy of keeping for prosperity!

This chart is where Riley has copied the titles of books that he has worked on in class during 2010.

It was one title at a time over the course of time so actually displays his ability to copy small amounts of words from an object close to him.

Imagine how this concept translated to copying from the board where he had to try to spell correctly, write neatly, and keep his place in the written passage.

We take for granted the ease at which we can read a sentence and then jot it onto a page solely from our memory.

Riley is still working on becoming more fluent with transcribing.

December 2011 - A sample of work.

During the dyslexia correction
During the dyslexia correction

This writing was done during the treatment phase. It is a transcription from a book and done all in the one sitting.

Riley was required to read several words, remember them and write them as correctly as possible into his book.

We were already noticing vast improvements at this stage. The spelling is great and RIley is remembering things such as leaving spaces, putting in punctuation, and closing in the top of his letters e.g. "a" which previously looked very much like "u".

Grade 7 Spelling Homework - All his own work!

Grade 7 homework
Grade 7 homework

This is a sample page from Riley's current homework book.

He has copied the spelling words and the sentence they're in is his own.

I am thrilled with the legibility of his work, that he is forming sentences well and for the most part getting the spelling correct.

A huge improvement!

Best of all, he's doing this without effort. There is not one day this year I've had to ask him to do his homework. He's finding it easy and so is happy just to spend the few minutes to get it done.

Moon Story - June 2012

Riley Moon Story
Riley Moon Story

My Daughter Flies Too...

Proving the system twice!

My daughter, Amelia, is 8 and in grade 3. Being alert to the problems Riley had made me take notice when she started coming home unhappy with school. She wasn't keeping up anymore.

Amelia told me she "couldn't do her sound waves" (the literacy program in the school) and she. "copied off Kayla when Ms Marshall wasn't looking" I was noticing the same rebellion Riley displayed toward homework, which she couldn't handle independently, as her twin could.

I took her to be assessed and last month did the ten day program with her. The assessment showed her brain was still trying to find the focal point and then, upon not finding it, was shutting down the ability of her one eye to communicate in sync with the other eye to the brain.

Since the program she is flourishing. She has started reading simple chapter books and is coming home self validating. She is telling me how easy her work is now and this is, obviously, priceless as she heads into the upper elementary years.

Her final assessment showed her eyes holding steady focus parallel to each other. This necessity can't be understated.

Thank you for taking such an interest in this lens. My desire is that this information can help other children, and their parents, who seek for answers that will make life easier.

Where I have found help.

There are many good books I have gleaned information from. Unfortunately some I have here are not on amazon. I think it is because they are Australian authors. If you can find it, I would recommend Good News For The Alphabet Kids by Michael Sichel.

Even a visit to your library will prove helpful. There is an abundance of information to be had. Even learning one thing that helps is worthwhile.

The Sue Dengate books are maybe a little off on a tangent but something I feel strongly about. Some children react very strongly to foods (or substances such as additives and preservatives) and this can greatly change a child's ability to function well.

purple star
purple star

A Squidoo Honour!

This lens has been awarded a Squidoo Purple Star. We are very honoured and excited by this news. Riley has taken it as a personal encouragement and it has somehow validated his new found self worth and confidence.

Very proud moment all round!

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