20th Anniversary of August is National Children’s Vision and Learning Month: Eye Coordination Problems Can Make Words “Hop Like Frogs”
With many children going back to school in August, now is the perfect time to focus on the critical link between vision and learning.
“More than 5 million children in the U.S. have eye coordination and eye focusing disorders which cause them to continue struggling with reading despite the best interventions,” shares Dr. Kara Heying, OD, FCOVD, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD); “Children don’t know how they are supposed to see, so they rarely complain; they show us they have a problem with their behavior.”
Jude was a bright and inquisitive child, yet he struggled to learn how to read. “His attention span was not age-appropriate for a first grader. Test questions were left unanswered and marked wrong, even though he knew the material. Meltdowns became a common occurrence during homework time. He started becoming indifferent to any consequences, insisting that he was trying his best,” explains his mother Trenna Stout; “Our happy child was slowly becoming an unhappy, frustrated boy.”
When his parents voiced their concerns that their child wasn’t reading, his pediatrician explained it away by saying he was “a precocious boy” while and his teachers used words like “energetic” and “active”. His reluctance to read was deemed a behavioral issue and generally disregarded.
Despite these explanations and the reassurance that he would eventually catch up, Jude’s reading continued to lag behind. Fortunately for the Stout family, Trenna is a reading interventionist and was therefore able to use her skills to work with her son directly. Taking the issue into her own hands, she asked him many questions about reading, such as, “Do you get headaches? Do your eyes get tired? Do the words get blurry?” He responded with, “No mommy, but the words hop like frogs on the page and punctuation gets smaller and smaller…until POOF, they disappear!”
At last, the door was opened as to why reading was so difficult for Jude. An evaluation by a developmental optometrist quickly identified the source of the problem: convergence insufficiency, a common eye coordination disorder. A program of optometric vision therapy was developed and followed, drastically changing Jude’s life for the better. Trenna shares, “His scores in reading, math, art, social studies, and library improved after vision therapy. He is reading on grade level with more fluency and no meltdowns. He initiates homework time and requires much less assistance completing it.”
After such dismissal and apparent unconcern over what was deemed a case of excess energy, Jude’s parents never expected a vision problem would be to blame. In the past, Jude had been diagnosed with farsightedness, amblyopia (“lazy eye”), and astigmatism by a reputable pediatric ophthalmologist. He was prescribed glasses and his parents were advised that future patching treatment might be necessary. Trenna “thought his vision was ‘fixed’”.
“Being educators, our child study team would make referrals to a developmental optometrist for a comprehensive vision exam, particularly when a student would not qualify for special education services. Therefore, we were familiar with this field.” Trenna continues, “However, it wasn’t until our son articulated that words were moving and punctuation was disappearing that we realized his vision needed more attention than his pediatric ophthalmologist had provided only a few months prior.”
As a parent and reading interventionist, Trenna has a very important message for other parents whose children may be needlessly struggling: “As teachers ourselves, we knew there was more to Jude’s reading and learning issues than the explanations we were receiving. More importantly, our parents’ intuition told us something wasn’t right. There is something to be said for a gut feeling a parent has that should not be discredited. Although teachers and specialists are experts in education, and pediatricians are experts in children’s medical care, a parent is the expert when it comes to their child. You are your child’s best advocate and should ask questions, raise concerns, and request assistance until you are heard.”
Eye coordination and eye focusing problems can make learning difficult; they can make the words appear blurry, double or look like they are moving. But fortunately children don’t have to struggle! Research from the last 20 years has clearly shown that problems with eye coordination and eye focusing are common and can be effectively treated with Optometric Vision Therapy.
It is important to see the right health care professional. The majority of vision screenings performed in schools and pediatricians’ offices are not designed to test for problems with eye coordination, tracking, or focusing. In fact, vision screenings miss at least 50% of vision problems. In addition, general eye exams often do not thoroughly evaluate all the visual skills required for academic success.
“It is vital that parents know the signs to look for,” states Dr. Heying; “Seeing 20/20 is just the beginning. All it means is you are able to see a certain size letter from a distance of 20 feet; so even children who can see 20/20 can have eye coordination problems.”
The 5 most common signs that a vision problem may be interfering with reading and learning are:
- Difficulty completing homework
- Inattentive or easily distracted
- Loss of place when reading
- Eyes are uncomfortable or sore when reading
- Gets tired when reading
For more information about the critical link between vision and learning and a more in-depth checklist, visit covd.org.
“It doesn’t make sense for children to continue to struggle when there is a solution,” explains Dr. Heying. “We are issuing a special infographic for parents and educators to share with their friends and families. Please help us spread the word.”
The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) is an international, non-profit optometric membership organization that provides education, evaluation, and board certification programs in behavioral and developmental vision care, vision therapy, and visual rehabilitation. The organization is comprised of doctors of optometry, vision therapists and other vision specialists. For more information on learning-related vision problems, vision therapy and COVD, please visit http://www.covd.org/ or call 330.995.0718.
A series of public service announcements (PSAs) are available at covd.org to help raise awareness that vision problems can not only interfere with learning, but sports performance, and other activities of daily living. These PSAs also address vision problems that impact individuals who have autism spectrum disorders or those who have suffered a head injury.