Unmasking Vision Related Learning Disorders: Seeing the Unseen

Education is important. We all know the positive effects of a good education. Some of us are only mildly aware of the increasing struggles facing our teachers. Funding, or lack thereof, and increased emphasis on students passing state testing are only two of the many challenges facing today’s teachers. Amidst the pressures of “quantitative” assessments of student abilities, teachers are also trying to balance the reality that not all children learn in the same way. One important yet overlooked key to helping children learn is their vision.

Many parents and teachers are unaware of the strong impact that vision can have on reading and learning. Yes, we know that it is important to be able to see the board at school. However, it is a misconception that 20/20 vision is all a person needs to see well. This narrative is both false and detrimental to a child’s success. 

Nearly 80% of what we learn is processed through our visual system. It should make perfect sense then, that a large part of the brain is dedicated to vision. It is estimated that approximately 50% of the brain is involved in vision and visual perception. That’s right- nearly one half of our brains are dedicated to our eyes. So why would we think that glasses, contacts, or natural 20/20 vision is all that we need to see properly?

One in four children have a vision disorder that can negatively impact their ability to read and learn. Examples of learning related vision disorders can include lazy eye, poor tracking, poor coordination (convergence insufficiency), poor focusing skills and poor visual processing skills. While lazy eye, also sometimes known as a strabismus, is easy for a parent to see, many other vision problems may not have any outwardly visible signs. Just because you cannot “see” a vision problem in your child does not mean it does not exist. Unlike needing braces for crooked teeth or physical therapy for a sports injury, the signs of a vision disorder are often hidden from a parent’s view. Worse yet, many children do not understand that how they see may not be normal. They have no comparison of what good vision is supposed to feel like. They think everyone sees the way that they do, or most heartbreaking, they feel they are not as smart as their peers. Their symptoms can also show similarities to ADD/ADHD.

This is why it is so important to make sure that every child gets a comprehensive eye examination from an optometrist with advanced training in pediatrics and vision therapy. Vision screenings barely scratch the surface. They provide a false sense of security to parents and educators. The American Optometric Association estimates that nearly 75% of school screenings fail to detect vision problems in our children. This shouldn’t be surprising as a school screening only looks at 4% of vision components compared to a comprehensive eye examination. Of the children that are found to have a vision problem, over 60% never make it to the eye doctor.

This can lead to delayed diagnosis or even not receiving any treatment. By not getting the proper diagnosis and treatment right away a child can unnecessarily struggle in the classroom, when reading, and when doing homework. They can experience headaches, blurred vision, feel tired when reading, loss of place when reading, double vision, poor comprehension, difficulty copying from the board, and more. Not only do these symptoms lead to an avoidance of reading, they can have significant impacts their lives into adulthood.

Time and time again I have talked with adult patients that never knew they had a vision problem. They never knew why they didn’t like to read; they just knew they weren’t readers. Some have even wondered if they would have chosen a different profession if they had enjoyed reading more. They simply never knew they had a problem. I can’t stress enough the importance of utilizing eye care professionals with advanced training in vision therapy to give your child their best possible vision for life. Don’t let your children settle for 20/20. We can help change their lives today.

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