By Dr. Robert Fox and Elizabeth Levy
We hear from many parents, day in and day out, who are desperate to find out why their extremely bright child is struggling in school. Many of those families have been told by the school nurse or pediatrician that their child’s visual acuity is 20/20.
Many of those children are able to pass a brief visual screening. They can cover one eye and read E…F…P…T…O…Z and then cover the other eye and repeat the process. The assumption is made that even though a child is struggling with reading, arguing when it comes time to do homework, and showing symptoms of many other learning problems, it cannot be a vision issue. It must be something else, right? Maybe not.
As many as one in four children have a learning-related vision issue. Symptoms can vary from child to child, but some of the most frequent symptoms include skipping or re-reading words or lines, poor reading comprehension, schoolwork taking much longer than it should, letter or word reversals (i.e. mixing up b and d, was and saw), difficulty copying from the board, and poor fine/gross motor coordination. Some children are even labeled as lazy, diagnosed with ADHD, or seen as simply having behavior problems because of their short attention span or inability to focus. A behavior problem may also present if the child is avoiding the task that is uncomfortable for them due to a vision problem.
Children with learning-related vision problems may have more obvious signs, such as holding a book very close or covering one eye while reading. They may also complain of headaches or burning eyes. Others may move their head back and forth while reading rather than moving their eyes, or fatigue quickly during schoolwork. Vision screenings check each eye individually, but they do not test the eyes ability to work well together. For some children, the print may be blurry, doubled or appear to move. Think of this for a moment; how would a child who has always seen words as doubled or blurry know that this is not what every other child sees?
What can be done if any of these signs or symptoms describe your child? You might find help with a developmental optometrist (also called a behavioral or a neuro-optometrist). An optometrist with this type of training uses a holistic, integrated way of treating the visual system. A full evaluation with a board-certified developmental optometrist includes not only eye health and clarity, but also includes testing of the many visual abilities that can affect reading, learning and attention. If necessary, your child can return for further testing of their visual perceptual skills that includes their visual memory, spatial discrimination and hand-eye coordination.
Once your child has had a complete comprehensive visual evaluation, a program of care can be prescribed. Some children need special lenses to reduce the stress on their visual system. Others may benefit from syntonic (light) therapy, which has been used clinically in the field of optometry for over 70 years. Many children further benefit from in-office optometric vision therapy. Vision therapy is an individualized program of care designed to treat visual skills deficiencies. Typically, this therapy involves 45-60 minute sessions once per week. Your child would work with a therapist to improve the various developmental skills needed for reading, learning and attention.
Over the years, we have seen these therapies have a positive impact on many young people, allowing them to reach their full potential.
Dr. Michael Fox is a developmental optometrist and Elizabeth Levy is a vision therapist at Fox Vision Development Center in Latham. Learn more at www.foxvisiondevelopment.com or call 374-8001.