Reading Rainbows For Learning Differences

My son Jackson, has always struggled with reading.  He does not like to read independently nor does he always understand what he is reading.  Comprehension has been the biggest road block to his advancement in a number of areas.  His special education teachers spent hours on the who, what, when, where, why questions with limited success.  They communicated that he refused to read out loud and when asked to answer simple questions about a passage, he would often have an outburst of some kind that involved kicking, spitting or yelling which led to an overemphasis on behavioral interventions and resulted in the side lining of his reading education.

From the minute we began our homeschooling adventure, I knew reading had to be a priority.  I started slowly with simply reading out loud, followed by basic comprehension activities.  I quickly discovered that he did in fact get very upset when asked these questions.  It did not take me long to figure out that my voice had power.  I could sooth or irritate, teach or torment.  I quickly learned when to speak and when to remain silent based on his needs at any particular moment.  I knew I had to change my approach to his reading challenges, I just had no idea where to begin.

Then I listened to him.  I stopped berating him with The Five Ws worksheets, I stopped making charts of setting, character, problem, solution, etc… I gave him a book, asked him to read and watched him.  I did not correct his pronunciation errors or redirect him when he got distracted.   I was silent for a solid month.  I just observed and smiled a lot as he read to me.  And I noticed something peculiar.  Every time he began to read out loud, within 30 seconds he would begin yawning and put his head on my shoulder. I had never noticed it before, probably because I was too busy correcting him or telling him to pay attention.  So I jumped on my BFF, Google and found this article by HSLDA entitled Visual Processing Dysfunction Characteristics.  It mentioned that one of the signs of this learning issues was yawning shortly after reading begins.  This was a huge lightbulb moment for me!

They suggested a few things to try to see if a visual processing dysfunction was the culprit behind a child’s reading problems.  One idea caught my eye immediately because it had been suggested to me a few years earlier by our developmental pediatrician, but I dismissed it as unnecessary because Jackson’s reading seemed fine at that time . . . Colored Overlays.  I ordered a pack of multi-colored transparencies from that day.  From the get-go that he preferred the darker colors that reduced the contrast between the white page and the black letters.

I decided to take a video of Jackson reading before and after using the dark blue colored overlay.  I can not stress enough how profound the change was in a 30 second time period.  Note that this video clip is of him reading from the same page – only a few seconds elapsed between the clips.  The only change that occurred was the addition of the overlay.   For those of you who have a child with ADD/ADHD/Dyslexia/ASD or any other learning disabilities, you will appreciate the “before” clip and laugh at how distracted and spacey Jackson is while he is reading.  It makes the “after” clip seem like a totally different child!

The most valuable lesson I learned through this process was that Jackson has great reading skills and comprehension ability, the challenge is figuring out how to get it out of him!  It’s all in there, he just has a number of peculiar roadblocks that have prevent him from “succeeding” academically in this area.  Whether it is a visual processing dysfunction or even a speech and language delay, learning differences need to be addressed with patience and with an open mind to a new and unexpected technique.  I’m excited to tackle the next challenge in Jackson’s education…since we’ve only been homeschooling for 6 weeks!

As a former high school government and economics teacher with a secondary education degree from James Madison University, I {Allison} have had the opportunity to teach an early intervention reading program for Kindergarteners in the Fairfax County Public School System for the last 4 years. When my 12 yr old autistic son’s transition to middle school did not go well, my husband and I saw the perfect opportunity for me to begin educating him at home. We have been praying about his educational needs for many years and we strongly believe that the Lord has created the perfect situation for both Jackson and me to begin this journey.  I have also authored numerous articles, blogs and the book, Biomanagement Field Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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  1. VERY interesting!! I’m going to look into that for my son who is very challenged with his reading due to his syndrome, autism, etc. Thanks a LOT for the info and the video!! I can see it benefiting my son.

  2. I’ve worked as a reading specialist for many years, privately and in schools. You’re right, worksheets and simple after-reading questioning is not going to improve serious reading problems. There are many reasons for reading comprehension difficulties: insufficient general/prior knowledge, weak vocabulary, ADD, language disability, and lack of reading experience. It is wonderful to hear that you found a “cure” for your son. I’ve used the visual overlays with some success, but I find it more of a tool. The problem is usually more complex. I encourage parents/teachers to try new approaches and to look at research-based techniques. Since I am also an author, I try to match kids with high-interest novels and help them discover the writer’s special effects.

  3. Thank you for sharing , I too have a son who is ADHD/Dyslexic and decided to pull him out of public school and start to homeschool him last JAnuary. I will be trying this suggestion, as we start back to school on January 2nd. Watching your sons video, reminds me alot of my son, thank you so much for sharing

    Sincerely Kelly

  4. I loved this article! I plan to use the colored overlays in my public school classroom when I return in January. Thanks!

  5. Amazing. I ordered these for Isaac to see if it helps him with his reading. I also forwarded this to his teacher and asked her to share with the special ed teachers at their school. Ali, I love how you see an issue and you find a solution. If only every teacher had enough time (and desire) to find solutions for each and every student. Thanks for your wisdom and for sharing with everyone!! Shauna (your biggest fan!)

  6. This is a great post – you mention such important factors like LISTENING to your child and KNOWING HE IS A GOOD READER/COMPREHENDER – you just had to find the best way to get at it! This is inspirational and so important! I think another important factor is to make reading meaningful to him – feeding his interests and affinities. In short, great post, I look forward to reading more. In the meantime, I hope you had a meaningful holiday and wish you a wonderful 2012.

  7. I’m going to try something like this with my son. He’s gifted and ADHD, and consistently tests “on level” with reading comprehension. His teachers (not homeschooled, obviously)are baffled because when discussing a story or a concept verbally, he’s spot on. However, if he’s given a written comprehension exercise, it’s a completely different story. I think he may have some breakdown in between his head and his hand, to put it simplistically, although the school has tested for writing disorders and found nothing. I believe they found only what they wanted to find, and he does suffer from at least dysgraphia. Perhaps something as simple as colored overlays will help his brain read, recall and process content differently.

  8. I came across this article on Pinterest this morning. As a mother of a child who is behind in reading, and a pediatric occupational therapist working in a classroom of children on the autism spectrum, this strategy makes sense and I’m looking forward to trying it out! Thank you!

  9. Thank you so much for this post and video. The difference with the overlay is amazing and noticeable! I’m hoping that I can use these with a few of my homework coach students! 🙂

  10. I feel there is a serious problem with your blog about using colored overlays, as people are thinking it will take care of all their child’s learning issues. I know a couple that are in a huge argument over your blog! The parents disagree on what course of action to take for their 9 year old child who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, and learning disabilities due to slow cognitive processing. One parent thinks that these overlays will “fix it all” and is disregarding what the physician and the school is recommending. I don’t agree with how you have portrayed this information. As one person said, it can be a tool, but that is all it is.

    1. I’m sorry that the parents you mentioned are arguing over whether or not the colored overlays will help their child. The mom in the guest post is simply sharing her experience with her own child. Parents are responsible for trying whatever they think will help their own children, deciding if it helps or not, and then making decisions based on their experiences. If the overlays don’t help their son, it should be apparent very quickly that they didn’t help. Then the parents can decide what further help is needed. All we can do is share our own experiences. Unfortunately, we can’t be responsible for the decisions other parents make for their own children.

  11. Thank you for bringing this topic to your readers. Yes, color can make a difference for many readers. Overlays or other innovative reading tools can provide more reading “comfort” for the eyes as well as promote improved focus and attention when reading.

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