Learning Difficulties

Learning Problems and Vision

1. Does your child hate to read or is a slow reader?
2. Has your child been labeled as having a learning disability?
3. Is your child smart in everything BUT school?
4. Do you suspect something is wrong despite all your doctors claiming your child is normal?

The definition of a learning disability is: a condition giving rise to difficulties in acquiring knowledge and skills to the level expected of those of the same age, especially when not associated with a physical handicap. The question is, what is that condition? If your child has been labeled as having a learning disability or disorder, there’s a good chance that they actually have an eye teaming problem. Studies have shown that the majority of children who have been labeled as having a learning disability in fact also have a binocular vision problem. In fact, even those who see 20/20 in both eyes can still have a functional binocular disorder that makes it difficult for them to read and retain written information easily. Individuals who have these problems may be able to pass a 3D test with no problem. Let’s quickly review what your eyes need to do in order to read properly. While reading, you must...

1. Remember what you just read
2. Correctly decipher the words you’re currently looking at
3. String them together to form a continuous narrative

If there is a slight tendency for the eyes to easily become misaligned or go out of focus when moving from word to word, then any one or more of these processes will be short­-circuited, leading to poor reading comprehension or fatigue. Someone with this problem can usually pass a 3D stereo test with no trouble but have difficulty maintaining proper alignment over time.

Normal Visual Alignment and Focus: In a normal individual, the act of reading requires their eyes to pull together and focus properly so that the focal point (where they see clearly) and the alignment point (where their eyes line up) are the same. This way, the words remain single and clear when they move their eyes from word to word. One of the most common binocular disorders is convergence insufficiency, a condition in which the two eyes are unable to pull together adequately when reading. Studies have shown that it affects anywhere from 2.5% to 13% of the general population.

Convergence Insufficiency in the News: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JaWOXGjKMw

In addition to convergence insufficiency, there are several other disorders:

  • Convergence excess (the two eyes tend to aim too closely together while reading).
  • Accommodative insufficiency (poor ability to keep the print clear while reading).
  • Hyperphoria (the two eyes have a slight vertical deviation relative to each other).
  • Binocular dysfunction (the images of the two eyes have trouble staying locked together while reading and deviate both in and out).
  • All of these binocular disorders can be resolved with optometric vision therapy!
There are many types of learning disabiities, and vision problems may be at the root of some of these disorders. Some of the common learning disability "labels" that may be caused by vision problems include:

  • Dysgraphia: poor handwriting and fine motor skills
  • Dyslexia: specific learning disability that affects reading and language processing skills
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit: a disorder that affects the understanding of space and visual information

Let's take a look at how these disabilities relate to various vision problems.

Visual Memory and Auditory Learning.

A child who cannot rely on visual skills to learn often over­-relies on auditory learning instead. Because of this adaptation, a poor reader’s visual memory and visual imagery skills are often underdeveloped. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” a reader who is able to quickly generate imagery based on what was read is going to be able to remember details much faster than someone who cannot. In vision therapy we will also incorporate drills to develop these visual skills so that the child can generate internal imagery. If a child's visual input is poor and he/she cannot organize their visual information properly, naturally the output may also be poor, leading to a label of dysgraphia due to poor handwriting.

Visual Organization and Working Memory

Whether reading, learning a new skill, or playing sports, we all need to have a situational awareness while tending to the task at hand. Undiagnosed vision problems can make it difficult to do both at the same time. If this occurs, imagine that your brain behaves like a computer that is unable to run the operating system and a game or browser simultaneously. Some potential outcomes of these problems include:
  • Unable to maintain eye contact while speaking.
  • Fast skimmer but overlooks many details.
  • Detail oriented but extremely slow response times.
  • Difficulty switching between tasks and poor at multitasking.
  • Gets flustered and confused very easily.
  • Unable to pay attention.

Understandably, these symptoms can easily be mistaken for ADD or ADHD, along with any number of psychological problems. Your child needs a neuro-­optometric examination to rule out a treatable vision problem that may be causing it! Furthermore, the lack of development of visual spatial skills secondary to poor eye tracking skills may lead to a diagnosis of having a visual perceptual or visual motor deficit.

What About Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a catch-­all term for anyone who has trouble with being able to identify written language. It is NOT a definitive diagnosis but rather a catch­-all term to describe someone who has trouble with sight­word recognition. If your child has been labeled “dyslexic” it may be that there is a visual perceptual/visual memory skill deficit that is secondary to a binocular disorder. The presence of a binocular problem can potentially inhibit a child from developing proper visual perceptual skills such as awareness of direction, attentiveness to visual details, and visual memory in such a way that sight word recognition becomes extremely poor. We would strongly recommend a visual efficiency evaluation to see if vision therapy can help!

Click here to read about vision therapy for the treatment of vision problems that affect learning.

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