Your child’s learning disability may be a vision problem

Published on Wed, Aug 24, 2011
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Researchers estimate that one out of four children have an undiagnosed vision problem that interferes with their ability to read and learn. Many of these children pass their vision screening because they have 20/20 eyesight, leaving parents and educators searching for answers to the child’s learning difficulties. Since 80 percent of learning is dependent upon vision, it is critical that parents and educators understand the signs and symptoms of vision problems that affect performance in school.

Dr. Peter Charron, a developmental optometrist in Bellingham, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of visual problems that interfere with reading and learning. Many of the patients in his office have 20/20 eyesight but still have visual problems that can’t be treated with glasses alone.

In one visual condition called convergence insufficiency, the eyes don’t aim properly toward the words on a page. People with this disorder often see words jumping or moving around on the page. Many children will lose their place when reading, get headaches and suffer from short attention spans and poor concentration. Others will avoid reading altogether, a behavior that continues into adulthood if not treated properly.

“Although convergence insufficiency is not well known, it’s common and occurs in about 3 to 13 percent of people,” Dr. Charron said. “Most of the time it goes undetected because it’s not tested for during vision screenings and can only be diagnosed in an eye exam.”

Children with this condition can often be labeled as learning disabled, underachieving or dyslexic. In fact, convergence insufficiency and other similar visual disorders can be masked as ADD or ADHD because the symptoms for each condition are so similar.

For example, if a child displays attention problems when reading and doing school work, but can easily sit and listen when someone else reads, their attention problem is more likely due to a visual condition rather than ADD/ADHD. This indicates the person can pay attention when learning while listening but probably has difficulty processing information through the eyes.

In 2008, researchers at the National Eye Institute concluded that the most effective treatment for convergence insufficiency is vision therapy.

Vision therapy is an office-based treatment for visual conditions such as convergence insufficiency that cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts. Other conditions treated with vision therapy include strabismus, where the eyes cross or turn outward, amblyopia or “lazy eye” and vision damage from head injuries or strokes.

In a vision therapy program, activities are individually designed to help the eyes focus, aim and team together as a pair. Eye-hand coordination problems, which can cause clumsiness, poor sports performance and difficulty with handwriting, are also diagnosed and treated.

If you suspect your child may have a vision condition, have his or her vision checked soon.

Dr. Charron, a native of Maine, graduated from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis and completed an internship at one of the country’s largest vision therapy offices in Los Angeles. His office, Northwest Vision Development Center, opened in July. Visit www.nwvisiontherapy.com for more information.