Am I Listening?

When Shane was a toddler, I would frequently find him with his head on the floor and his diapered butt in the air.  He would just lie there like that, until someone found a way to get him up and moving again.  I thought he was tired, or even bored – which seemed unlikely for a toddler – until several years later.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that he was listening to absolutely everything.  I think, in his toddler days, he was listening to the vibrations in the floor.

Even during that baby stage when all babies look people right in the eye, Shane looked across the room.  The first video I have of Shane laughing was when my husband, Bill, was holding him and making a funny sound.  Shane heard that sound, no doubt, but he never looked at my husband.

Most people – especially males – are born with a strong visual interest.  Shane simply wasn’t.  Or so I thought.

When we found out that Shane had a vision processing disorder, it made a lot of sense.  All his idiosyncracies finally fit into place.  He was listening but he wasn’t paying attention visually – because he couldn’t.  Vision processing disorder mimics dyslexia – which is how we found it.

Shane knew every letter and how it sounded by the time he was 3 – but by age 6, he still didn’t want to read.  When he finally started trying to read out loud, it was obvious that his letters were jumbled and that he couldn’t concentrate on any single word.  He would get tired after every page, and rub his eyes constantly.  With his ability to repeat the letter sounds easily, the reading issue didn’t make sense.

In preschool, I almost got into a fist fight with his teachers because he had circled the lower-cased letter “q” when he was supposed to circle the lower-cased letter “b.”  I explained to the teachers that this was the same letter, just upside-down.  I thought Shane was brilliant, knowing that.  Shane also did jigsaw puzzles upside-down or sideways.  He still does.  (I should probably have noticed that he didn’t ever do them right-side-up.)

But when he was writing letters backwards in kindergarten, we finally took him to an occupational therapist.  After half a dozen visits, she said, “He may have a vision processing disorder.”  We went to a specialist, who confirmed with a test: Shane definitely had a vision processing disorder.  The doctor showed me with a flashlight how Shane’s eyes could go googly-eyed like Cookie Monster on Sesame Street.  It was bizarre.  But it was nothing compared to what he could not do on those tests.

We spent two years on treatments – basically “eye games” where Shane taught his eyes and his brain to work together.  It cost $20,000, none of it covered by insurance (because vision processing is still in its infancy as a disorder).  Treatment took almost two years, but Shane’s eyes and his brain are finally working together. 

Still, yesterday, as we were driving home from the Chesapeake Bay, Shane stared out the window.

“Shane,” I said.  He didn’t look at me.

“What?” he said.

Dylan looked at him.  “Shane,” Dylan said, trying to get his attention.


This went on for several minutes.  I was driving, so I had no idea that Shane wasn’t looking at me.  He never stopped staring out the window.  This was not defiant behavior.  He was listening and assumed that was sufficient.

Dylan, however, was incredibly frustrated.  “SHANE!” he finally screamed, “Look over here!”

And Shane looked at us immediately, because he hears every word we say.  He absorbs them and responds without hesitation.  Still, sometimes it would be nice if he just looked at us – if those big, baby blue eyes would look into mine.

It happens more now than it did before treatment, certainly.  But not nearly as much as I’d like.

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