Dyslexia. ADD/ADHD. Learning disability. There are a myriad of diagnoses that can impact how your child performs in the classroom. At the first sign of a learning-related problem, many parents will visit with teachers, primary care physicians, school psychologists, etc. to establish the “why” behind their child’s struggle. However, one of the most important visits to make is to your child’s optometrist.
Roughly 80% of learning occurs through the visual system. It’s not hard to see how a deficit in this system can prevent a child from reaching his or her full learning potential. If these skills are not well developed, potential learning and reading difficulties will result.
A vision screening at school or the pediatrician’s office only checks to determine if a child has “20/20” eyesight in each individual eye. How your child’s eyes work together as a team is never tested. Many learning-related visual problems occur in children who have 20/20 eyesight but whose eyes don’t work together as one unit. Undiagnosed teaming problems can heighten many of the symptoms of dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. In some children, the vision problem could actually be masquerading as one of these learning-related diagnoses.
In reading, eye teaming difficulties are generally associated with loss of place, rereading lines or words, skipping lines and other small miscues. Some children experience problems of poor concentration, tiredness and headaches. When a child devotes the bulk of his or her energy and effort to overcoming a teaming difficulty, reading comprehension will suffer and reading will take an excessively long time to complete. Children with these visual deficits will regularly avoid reading and are often viewed as having a decreased attention span.
When visiting your optometrist, it is important to tell them how your child is performing at school. A comprehensive eye examination looks at many aspects of your child’s visual health, but certain testing is only completed if an eye teaming problem is suspected. A second, more in-depth evaluation of your child’s visual system is often required to determine the type of eye teaming difficulty that may be present.
Since glasses and contact lenses cannot help correct eye teaming issues, many eye care providers will refer children for binocular vision training. Binocular vision training is a program deeply rooted in developmental rehabilitation of the oculomotor system which strengthens the neural connections between the brain and visual system. The brain exhibits a great deal of neuroplasticity, allowing the visual system to become more efficient if properly rehabilitated to correct poor eye movements and tracking.
Binocular vision training is a structured and doctor-supervised therapy program designed to help develop or recover fundamental visual skills, improve visual efficiency and enhance how visual information is processed. It is important to realize that therapy sets the stage for a child to learn or improve many visual abilities. However, therapy does not teach reading, writing or spelling, nor does it provide services normally provided by educational therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, etc. Binocular vision training is often an integral part of a multidisciplinary approach to help underlying vision problems that may be contributing to learning issues.
Great vision is so much more than “20/20.” Make sure that a comprehensive eye examination with an optometrist is on your back-to-school checklist. Please alert your optometrist to any reading or school-related difficulties your child may have. Every child deserves to have the best visual foundation for a lifetime of learning.
Dr. Lyerly is an optometrist with Carolina Center for Eye Care. She has a passion for children and a wealth of experience with learning-related visual problems. Dr. Lyerly coordinates the binocular vision training program at Carolina Center for Eye Care with Lead Director and Therapist Katie Mann, CPO. If your child is experiencing difficulty in the classroom, schedule a comprehensive eye examination with Dr. Lyerly at the Advance or Lewisville locations or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Signs that your child might be suffering from a learning-related vision issue:
- Closes or covers one eye
- Occasionally sees double
- Rubs eyes frequently
- Able to read for only a short time
- Poor reading comprehension
- Moves head excessively when reading
- Frequently loses place, skips lines when reading
- Trouble learning right and left
- Reverses letters and words
- Has headaches when reading