I have worked with struggling readers for almost 25 years. Most of my students have been very young children in elementary school. All of them were diagnosed with learning disabilities and/or reading difficulties. I taught students directly for 8 years and have worked in Special Education Services planning instructional programs for students over the last 16 years. I have always been fascinated by the process of assessing students, pinpointing weaknesses and then working to provide strategies to intervene and help improve their reading skills.
Recently, I have thought a lot about struggling readers of advanced age, not those in high school, but those who are advanced in years or considered elderly. Several weeks ago, my mother had a stroke. After three weeks in a rehabilitation facility, she has regained almost all of the skills she originally lost. She is able to walk again, speak clearly and even regained her ability to swallow. However, she has not been able to regain her sight well enough to read without some sort of modification. The stroke left her with impaired vision. It is hard to watch someone who loves to read struggle to see the numbers on a phone or the print on a page. My mom was always reading. She read novels, newspapers, magazines, the Bible, recipes and spent a lot of her free time working on her computer. After the stroke, she found it very difficult to read.
Over the last few weeks, I visited her every day in her little room at the Rehab Center and she really wanted to be able to read in her spare time. She was bored and lonely and books had always been her escape. What bothered me the most was no one really paid attention to the vision issue or helped to find a solution for her reading problem. There was a Physical Therapist who came 6 days a week to help her learn to walk again. The Occupational Therapist came daily to help practice and improve her fine motor skills and the Speech Therapist worked daily on her speech and language skills. But where were the professionals to help her read again? It broke my heart to watch her struggle to read, only to see her give up in frustration. We decided we needed to figure out a solution on our own. So, we discussed several ideas that she thought might help her read better.
At first, we tried a magnifying glass. We brought it to her to see if it could help her read the newspaper. It did help some. She was able to read enough to decipher and comprehend the big ideas. Then we got her books with large print. She was able to read some of her favorites this way. Eventually, we moved to a Kindle. That way she could control the size of the print she was reading. Our next strategy is purchasing some audio books.
I know my mom isn’t the first older person to have a sudden loss of vision. She is just the first person I have loved who has had a sudden loss of vision and helping her find a solution is very important to me. Since I have been researching this, I have found several good articles about providing reading strategies for the elderly with vision loss. My mom is still having some difficulty reading because her vision loss is not just a matter of being able to see larger print or bigger words. However, she is now reading better, enjoying what she reads, and improving every day. For that, we are both very thankful.