Vision Problems Mistaken for Learning Disabilities: College of Optometrists in Vision Development Observes Learning Disabilities Awareness Month
While educators may have been taught that vision has nothing to do with learning, COVD is sending the message that vision has everything to do with learning.
Learning Disabilities Awareness month is a time to bring awareness to children and adults who have learning disabilities. This October, the College of Optometrists in Vision Development is sending a special message to people who have learning disabilities: you may in fact, have an eye coordination or eye movement disorder contributing to your difficulties.
While educators may have been taught that vision has nothing to do with learning, COVD is sending the message that vision has everything to do with learning. “If you really think about how much your eyes move when you are reading or when you are in the classroom, it is pretty easy to see that there is a connection,” states Dr. David Damari, COVD President and Dean of the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University.
Dr. Damari is also a Vision Consultant to the board that administers the United States Medical Licensing Examination, and during the 18 years as consultant to the board he has helped determine which medical students have severe enough vision disorders that they may receive special accommodations when taking the various steps of that examination. He also performs this service for multiple other higher education examination and licensing boards, and has found that there are at least as many notes from ophthalmologists (eye surgeons who typically have MD degrees) claiming these visual disorders are disabling as there are from optometrists. Yet, organized ophthalmology would still like pediatricians and the general public to believe that visual difficulties cannot impair the reading process.
Despite all the work that is done to help children with Learning Disabilities, bright children typically think they are stupid because they continue to struggle with reading despite all best efforts to help them. Yet most of these children are struggling with undetected vision problems.
Christina was one of those students. She made it all the way to college thanks to her excellent listening skills and a lot of time spent doing homework (considerably more than it should have taken). Once she started struggling in college a professor sent her to the Learning Disabilities Clinic where it was determined that she was “Learning Disabled NOS (Not Otherwise Specified).”
Fortunately for Christina, the private psychologist who administered her testing at the Learning Disabilities Clinic suggested that she try optometric vision therapy. After a thorough vision evaluation by a developmental optometrist, where all 17 of the visual skills that are critical to reading and learning were tested, it was determined that she in fact did have a fully correctable binocular vision disorder.
“I cried when I realized I wasn’t stupid, but that I had a vision problem,” Christina shared. Christina’s story is featured in a book written by Jillian Benoit and her mother, Robin Benoit. Dear Jillian: Vision Therapy Changed My Life Too was written in response to the outpouring of people sharing their stories with Jillian after reading their first book, Jillian’s Story: How Vision Therapy Changed My Daughter’s Life.
“The statement that ‘Vision has nothing to do with reading,’ is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard,” shares 14-year old Jillian, “I have learned from personal experience that vision has everything to do with my ability to read.”
In addition to receiving an overwhelming positive response to Jillian’s Story, she also heard from individuals asking her where the research is that proves that vision therapy works. Jillian responds to this in the Preface of her new book, as only a 14 year old can say, “I am part of the data… vision therapy is for people and only people can tell you if it works. … Countless people of all ages have been through vision therapy, and it has changed their lives for the better. I hope this book will open the eyes of those who have rejected vision therapy.”
Dear Jillian will officially be released during COVD’s annual meeting during a special presentation on October 9th. “I can think of no better time to release our new book, which shares stories of people who struggled with reading, learning, and other activities of daily life before they found vision therapy, than during Learning Disabilities Awareness month,” shares Robin Benoit. “I hope that people will listen to our message, it could make all the difference!”
“Our message for Learning Disabilities Awareness month is simple, if you continue to struggle with reading, even if you have been told your vision is fine, a correctable vision disorder could be at the root of your difficulty with reading and learning,” states Dr. Damari.
The five most common signs that a vision problem may be interfering with your or your child’s ability to read and learn are:
1. Skips lines, rereads lines
2. Poor reading comprehension
3. Takes much longer doing homework than it should take
4. Reverses letters like “b” into “d” when reading
5. Has a short attention span with reading and schoolwork
If you struggle with reading, but don’t have any of the above symptoms, be sure to visit COVD’s website for a more in-depth checklist. You will also find optometric research on vision therapy and more information on the critical link between vision and learning at covd.org.
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 www.covd.org or call 888.268.3770.
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.