As assistant director of the family resource center, Lisa Doyle’s job in the Bourbon County school system is to help eliminate barriers to children’s education.
And she’s also a mom.
So when her son Mason, now 11, was experiencing difficulties at school, she put her resourcefulness — and her love for her son — in full throttle and sought an answer. “Starting in kindergarten, I noticed he wasn’t learning to read like I thought he should be,” said Doyle from the picturesque farm she shares with her husband and two sons outside Carlisle. It soon became clear Mason was memorizing the little storybooks his class used at school. “He’d recite it word for word without even looking at the book, but when he was actually looking at the pages, his reading was very slow and choppy.
“That’s when I knew things weren’t right,” she said.
Mason’s problems persisted into first grade, when Doyle was assured that her bright son’s difficulties were still “normal” — even when he started writing numbers and letters backward.
“I knew I had to get some intervention,” she recalls.
It took some time, and some testing, but eventually the occupational therapist with whom Doyle worked recognized the symptoms and suggested Mason be evaluated for dyslexia.
This perplexing disorder can have many different symptoms, Doyle explained. Sometimes vision testing is recommended since people with dyslexia don’t seem to be seeing the same things others are. A vision therapist’s diagnosis was convergence insufficiency — Mason’s eyes weren’t working together properly — and recommended ongoing therapy. Special lenses were also recommended. The Doyles tried that.
“It all helped somewhat, but he was still skipping words. He didn’t stay on the line. Spelling was frustrating — he’d know all his words perfectly on Thursday night and do well on the Friday test, but then he wouldn’t recognize the words again the next day on a written page — or be able to spell them aloud the following week.”
By the fourth grade, the bright, engaging boy who showed a lot of artistic talent was reading far below his age level — at the second grade level or less. He worked hard; he just wasn’t making the connections.
But one night the Doyle family was gathered on the couch, enjoying a movie. When it ended, everyone got up, but Lisa stayed in the living room and started flipping through the channels. She lighted on KET — and was dumbfounded at what she saw.
“I heard a man talking about dyslexia — that there was a glitch somewhere between the eyes and the brain. The eyes are fine. The brain is fine. That’s what I’d always thought about Mason. I watched the whole program and said, ‘this man really knows what he’s talking about.’”
That man was Dr. Robert Dahlem, a Louisville veterinarian who invented special prism lenses to help his dyslexic son, Austin, who was struggling in school. Dahlem dedicated himself to changing the lives of other children struggling against this puzzling learning disability — and became the subject of the independent documentary Daddy, Am I Stupid? The Dyslexia Dilemma, first aired on KET in October 2006.
After watching the program, Doyle immediately e-mailed Dahlem, asking for an evaluation — and to be a part of Dahlem’s study of the effectiveness of his treatment. Dahlem responded and in March 2007, she took Mason to his office for testing.
“I was just flabbergasted,” she recalls. “It took 20 minutes. Mason would look at the pages and was asked to name the colors. When the doctor told him to point out the purple, I must have looked at him funny because there wasn’t any purple there. But Dr. Dahlem said, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. Only dyslexics can see it.’”
At the end of the interview, Mason was diagnosed as severely dyslexic and was offered the strongest prism lens Dahlem makes. It made an immediate difference.
“Before he got the glasses, he was two reading grade levels behind. Now he’s reading above his grade level. When I heard Dr. Dahlem on KET, I thought, ‘this is just wonderful. Here is the answer!’ And it was. Without seeing the program on KET, I would have never known.”
From the August 2008 edition of Visions, KET’s member magazine.