Vision related learning disorders

If you have heard me speak, the chances are I mentioned a wonderful book entitled The Hidden Link Between Vision and Learning.  This book has been instrumental in explaining the important relationship between the visual skills needed to efficiently read and learn.  The author, Wendy Beth Rosen, is a mother and teacher. She became an advocate for vision therapy after her daughter struggled with reading.

Did you know that 1 of 4 school-age children have an undetected vision problem?  I am not referring to being unable to call out the 20/20 letters on the eye chart, a measure termed visual acuity.  Vision is much more than mere visual acuity. Unfortunately however, screenings usually measure only visual acuity and this test only detects 5% of vision problems in children.

There are many other more subtle symptoms observed in children and adults that suffer from vision problems and these symptoms are often diagnosed as a learning disorder.  As an example, 15 of the 18 symptoms linked with attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) are also  associated with a  vision disorder. Likewise, 13 of the 17 symptoms of dyslexia are associated with vision.The point to be made, and my purpose in writing, is to help identify more children who have visually related learning disorders.  I believe it is counter-productive to  “label” children with a learning disability or dyslexic when indeed it may be an undiagnosed vision condition. The diagnosis of ADD has increased by 42% in the past 8 years.  In the United States, 6.4 million children (roughly 11%), have been diagnosed as  ADD and 6.1% of children are treated with medication.

If one neglects a comprehensive visual examination for a child that is suspected of having a learning disability or dyslexia, the child may continue to struggle in school. Certainly educational programs directed at the child struggling in school are important but these programs may be ineffective or less than optimally effective if there is an undetected vision problem.

One of my favorite quotes from Ms. Rosen’s book is “We can hear when a child exhibits a speech problem, but we have no way of knowing how the world looks to a child with a vision problem.”  Why is our society more acceptable to medicating our children than they are to providing an alternative treatment that might permanently correct these symptoms?  A rule of medicine is “first do no harm”. Most would agree that a non-invasive rehabilitation therapy would be the conservative first choice rather than a habit forming amphetamine.

What is vision therapy?

Vision therapy trains the eyes and the brain to work together to process information and it is effective in 90% of patients.  It does not strengthen the eye muscles (they are already really strong!) but the therapy goals are to improve the coordination and efficiency of processing information coming in through the eyes. There are 5 general components of vision that are addressed during vision therapy:

  1. Orientation: This is directed at how the patient organizes and performs in space
  2.  Ocular Motor: This area works to obtain accurate control fine eye movements
  3.  Binocularity: This skill deals with seeing a single target when looking at it
  4. Accommodation: This skill deals with seeing a target clearly and quickly at all distances and the person should be able to maintain this clear vision over time
  5. Perception: This is the ability for the brain to efficiently and instantly code and make sense of what has been seen. This involves very high level information processing.


If you are inserted in learning more, watch this webinar where Wendy Beth Rosen was a participant:

If your child struggles to read or learn, the possibility of a visual component should be ruled out.  Take this quiz and learn more here:

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