September 26th, 2006
Reading All the Signs
Eyeglass inventor tests group to offer alternative help for dyslexics.
By MOLLY WILLIAMSON
State Journal Staff Writer
As Elkhorn Middle School sixth-grader Hayley Warfel reads a book, she sees letters flip fop. The word ‘was’ becomes ‘saw’ and ‘on’ becomes ‘no’.
When she looks up to answer a question or see what the teacher is writing on the board, she easily loses her place. Reading is difficult for Hayley, which seems strange because her mother is a reading teacher. “It was frustrating because I could help other children with their reading, but she still struggled,” said Amy Warfel “It was not a matter of how much support she got at home.” Hayley is dyslexic and Saturday she, and at least 14 other adults and children, sought help for their learning disability.
Elkhorn Middle language arts teacher Pam Jackson created a reading club to help dyslexics read better. She invited Louisville veterinarian Robert Dahlem to the club the last two weeks because he studied dyslexia and devised a corrective solution. Dahlem invented a special pair of glasses that reflects light using a prism lens in the right eye. It sends light back into a blind spot in the right eye, which many dyslexic people have, said Cindy Baumert, his sister who helped him assess the students Saturday. That illuminates a dark spot at the back of the left side of the brain that many dyslexics have when they read.
Dahlem investigated the problem after his son was diagnosed as severely dyslexic, Baumert said. He knew his son did not suffer a brain trauma or anything that would have caused so many learning problems. So Dahlem began studying children’s facial symmetry, eye dominance and shifting of eye dominance to see what similarities occurred among dyslexic students, Baumert said.
“One of his strengths was his veterinarian training because he has a key sense of observation, Baumert said. When you are a vet, your patients can’t talk to you and tell you what’s going on, so you have to look for certain things.
Some of the methods he used Saturday to determine the level of dyslexia were asking people to hold a small cylinder to their eyes to see which one was dominant, having them make a small circle with their hands and look through it to show eye dominance and writing their name to see if there was any eye shifting. Dahlem studied their face to examine facial symmetry.
Then, he gave them different pairs of glasses to try and asked them to see whether different colors and shapes popped out more with the glasses and if letters and words were separated and more prominent with the glasses. Then, participants read a selection without – then with – the glasses to see if the reading speed increased. If it helped, he gave the student a pair of glasses. So far, he has helped more than 200 people around the nation.
For Hayley, it worked. Her reading speed increased and she said she could see the words better. “I wanted to get the glasses so I could read better,” Hayley said. “It takes me a long time to read things, and I thought this could help me go faster, remember things more and probably get better grades.
Amy Warfel said she wishes dyslexia could be caught at the early elementary level before kids become frustrated and give up on reading. However, she said Kentucky does not test for dyslexia, so many students struggle through and develop coping mechanisms to help them read.
“This is absolutely wonderful,” Amy Warfel said of the glasses. “This will help so many students whose reading level has been stifled for so long: This will increase their self-confidence. I was very curious to see how it worked because I am a reading teacher, but from what I have seen, this will change lives.
Before any of the participants met Dahlem, they took the Gates-Mac-Ginitie Reading Test; a timed national standards reading test, to determine their reading level. The same group will be tested again in the spring to see if the glasses helped.
Dahlem’s father, Ed Dahlem, is a retired engineer and created the glasses using Dahlem’s suggestions. They are reading glasses with a clear safety glass on the left side and a prism on the right.
Dahlem has a patent pending on the glasses.
He also has been fighting litigation from a Louisville optometrist who filed a cease and desist order who is upset a veterinarian is delving into optometry, Baumert said. That optometrist already runs a program called vision therapy because he believes dyslexia is a problem with eye tracking.
Also, the American Association of Ophthalmologists released a statement this year saying dyslexia has nothing to do with vision. The American Institute of Health says dyslexia must be a result of poor reading instruction.
Dahlem and his team now are trying to overcome that message by showing it has nothing to do with instruction and everything to do with the way students see words on the page.
Dahlem now has two pediatricians and an ophthalmologist backing his research. He received a $30,000 grant from KET to produce a documentary about his research. He also has several personal testimonies about the success of his creation. “We are working for the kids.” Baumert said. “It is not harmful, it is not invasive and it is something they want to try. We are not recruiting them. They are coming to us. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But what does it hurt to try?”
Plus, the service is free to anyone interested, Jackson said. Dahlem spent two Saturdays at Elkhorn just to help the students read better.
“How altruistic can you be?” Jackson said. “This is just amazing. I would have given anything to have something like this at (a younger) age. He is making miracles and changing lives. Just seeing their faces when they come out of the room (with Dahlem) is a shot in the arm and encourages us to keep on keeping on.”