Vision and learning-“Help for Struggling Students”

BY:  Karen Chau O.D.

Help for Struggling Students

When children have trouble with reading comprehension that doesn’t resolve despite the best interventions, it seems like the only answer is that it is Dyslexia or some other learning disability.

In my experience, I have seen a number of children who had vision problems contributing to their reading difficulties who had symptoms that could easily be mistaken for a variety of attention problems as well as learning disabilities.  However, once the vision problems were taken care of these children were able to read and responded faster to remediation.

It might interest you to know that a study performed at Harvard Medical School, “Frequency of Visual Deficits in Children with Developmental Dyslexia,” was published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology.  The results of the study found a definite correlation between Developmental Dyslexia (the most common form of Dyslexia) and Binocular Vision Disorders.

In the conclusion of the study it states, “These findings suggest that deficits in visual function are far more prevalent in school-aged children with Developmental Dyslexia than in Typically Developed readers…”   Developmental Dyslexia is the most common form of Dyslexia.

The research from Harvard confirms what we have seen in our office over the years:  Many children who are diagnosed with Dyslexia also have a variety of these vision disorders contributing to their challenges.  It is also interesting to note that these vision disorders are also present in approximately 1/3 of typically developed readers.

Typically, these children can read aloud when asked and they are able to read the text.  This would lead one to assume incorrectly that vision is fine, despite the fact that the child is unable to remember what was read.  Eye coordination and eye movement disorders often make the text appear to move around while the child is trying to read.  When this occurs, it requires a tremendous amount of concentration just to see the words, and very little concentration is left to remember what they read.

A lot of people mistakenly assume that if their child can see things far away that they can see fine up close.  Unfortunately, most of the children who have eye coordination and eye movement disorders can see fine when looking at things in the distance.  In addition, most vision screenings only test for how well a child can see the letters on the eye chart from a distance of 20 feet away.

When a vision problem is at the root of a child’s struggles with learning, the signs are very easy to see – when you know what to look for.  Children don’t know how they are supposed to see, so the only way they can tell you they have a vision problem is with their behavior.

Therefore, you need to know the various signs to watch for; for example, does your child:

  • avoid reading?
  • prefer to be read to?
  • turn his or her head at an angle when reading?
  • have trouble comprehending what is being read?
  • read a paragraph out loud but not remember what was read?
  • have a short attention span when reading or doing schoolwork?

 Any one of these can be a sign of a possible eye coordination, tracking or eye movement problem.  When children continue to struggle with comprehension, reading and learning despite the best interventions, it is appropriate to schedule your child for a Developmental Vision Evaluation at our office.

 As a Developmental Optometrist, I provide a very thorough evaluation, typically about 1 to 2 hours of testing to determine if these children can maintain clear, single vision throughout the school day so they can process visual information correctly.  In addition, you can download a weighted symptom checklist to help you identify if a vision problem may be at the root of your child’s struggles.

 Please feel free to give my office a call if you have any questions.

Karen H. Chao, O.D.
San Gabriel Family Optometry
121 S. Del Mar Ave. Ste. A
San Gabriel, CA  91776