Vision and Reading

According to the 1986/87 Future of Visual Development/ Performance Task Force, 80% of children who are reading disabled have difficulties with one or more basic visual skills.

dVisual skills are developed and learned over time, just like learning to walk and talk. It starts from birth (arguably even earlier) and continues throughout life. If these skills are not developed well, this can lead to potential learning and reading problems down the road.

In one masked study of kindergarten and first grade children, development of visual perceptual skills could be used to predict whether a child would have problems or not in reading with the entire group studied. Even when IQ was partially controlled for, vision problems were statistically correlated with reading problems.

Another study showed that 95% of first grade nonreaders had significant vision problems. They had nearly 2.5 times (250%) more visual problems than first grade high achievers.

So, what happens if vision help is not provided during the early grades? Visual function in early grades is a lot less demanding than in the higher grade levels, so many children will do well until they are asked to read to learn rather than learn to read.

In one long term study of 160,000 school children in Texas, only 20% of children entering school had clinically significant vision problems. By the middle of second grade, 40% showed clinically significant vision problems. By the end of fifth grade, 80% of these children had clinically significant vision problems.

This is why behavioral optometrists are not surprised when so many of their patients are third, fourth and fifth graders. The visual demand is so much higher that these kids' fragile visual skills break down and they can't sustain good performance over long periods of time.

If good visual skills are poorly developed early on, then that child will have to continually work to compensate for the inefficiency. Some children can keep up by working extremely hard, while others no matter how hard they work, cannot achieve up to their potential. The longer they struggle, the further they can get behind. Frustration and low self esteem ensues and can lead to giving up or not trying so hard.

These children (that grow into adults with vision problems!) do not have to struggle from visual development difficulties. Vision therapy can build the pathways needed to allow them to use their visual system efficiently so that it does not hinder their performance.

For more information on how to train the visual system to work well, click here.

There are many visual skills that are required when reading.

During reading, not only must you see things clearly, but you must have good eye movement skills, sustain clarity over time and keep the book single. Integrating the eye movements with higher cognitive processing including paying attention, remembering, processing and utilizing the visual information perceived is also important, in some cases even more so.

Oculomotor skills, accommodation, vergence, visual perceptual skills, and binocularity are just some of the aspects of vision that have been found to statistically impact learning, but most especially reading.

For more information and explanation of these visual skills, click here.

It is important to remember that most behavioral optometrists do not directly treat reading and learning disabilities.

Vision problems do not wholly cause reading and/or learning disabilities, or vice versa, but they do play a role in the etiology of some learning disorders and can contribute to some of the difficulties associated with them. The optometrists' job is to alleviate visual problems that could potentially interfere or that are interfering with reading and learning.

Sometimes, this can be the child's major hurtle and extraordinary gains are made in that child's performance by just remediating the vision problem. This can be seen sometimes, for example, when a child is wrongly labelled because certain facets, such as vision, are not fully explored. More often than not, vision is just a small piece of the puzzle and other issues still need to be addressed.

If a child is significantly behind academically, vision therapy can help build the proper skills needed to achieve but it is not going to fill in the educational gaps. Tutoring may still be necessary once treatment is completed.

Kids don't grow out of significant vision problems, so these problems don't just go away.

There have been several studies that have linked vision dysfunction with juvenile delinquency. Some researchers have found that 70% of juvenile delinquents studied had a vision problem. One theory is that vision problems make it difficult to achieve in school, which causes feelings of failure, low self-esteem and disinterest in academics. Consequently, other behaviors are developed. These behaviors may predispose a young child towards criminality. In fact, during a California funded study, recidivism (repeat offenders) reduced from 45% to 16% when wards received on-site optometric vision therapy at the Regional Youth Education Facility in San Bernardino, CA.

Beyond the teenage years, one study showed that when illiterate adults were vision screened, there was a 74% failure rate. Illiteracy is a growing problem in our country. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five Americans are unable to read or speak well enough to function effectively in their daily lives. That is roughly 35 million Americans. Perhaps this number would not be so high if we caught those people with vision problems early on and corrected them, making it easier for them to learn how to read by having an efficient visual system.

Remember, vision disorders do not just interfere with reading, but also with activities such as copying, spelling and math.

75-90% of classroom learning comes through the visual system. It makes sense to make sure that the visual system is in good working order.

If you know someone who is having trouble reading or performing well in school, suggest to them that they should have their vision checked by a doctor that looks at the entire visual system. To find an eye doctor near you, click here.






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