Don’t overlook vision.
Nearly one in four children suffers from an undiagnosed visual problem that can cause reading and learning difficulties. Visual problems are the most common cause of handicapping conditions in children. A recent study presented through Harvard University entitled “How Vision Impacts Literacy: An Education Problem That Can Be Solved” found that vision problems may impact learning more than poverty and socioeconomic factors.
What is vision?
Vision is more complex than you might think. Most people speak of vision in terms of 20/20 eyesight. However, eyesight, or the ability to see clearly, is only one small component of vision. While it is important to be able to see clearly it is also important to be able to aim, track and focus your eyes. It is also important to be able to make sense of what you are seeing. Because we learn primarily through vision, 80 percent of our brains are devoted to processing visual information—more than all the other senses combined.
How important is vision to learning?
Once children reach school age and begin reading it has been estimated that 85 percent of what they learn is processed through the visual system. For children to excel in an academic environment, an efficient visual system that operates effortlessly and automatically is required. This frees attention resources to concentrate on the task at hand, be it reading or writing. Visual problems interfere with this process by draining attention resources, making learning frustrating and arduous.
What kinds of visual problems are there?
There are two general categories of visual issues: visual efficiency and visual perceptual problems.
Visual efficiency interferes with the efficient gathering of information by the eyes. These are eye movement, eye focusing and eye teaming challenges. Issues in these areas can cause headaches, eyestrain, loss of place when reading, poor reading comprehension, poor attention span, letter reversals, poor handwriting, poor organizational skills, blurred vision and even double vision; these skills may not be assessed by every doctor to an adequate degree during a routine vision exam. Therefore, many parents of children with visual efficiency problems have been told that their child “sees fine” when, in reality, they have a substantial visual problem.
Visual perceptual issues interfere with how visual information is perceived and processed. Deficiencies in visual perception can cause difficulties in recognizing, matching, categorizing, sequencing, and detecting relationships among stimuli. These are important foundational skills that help children understand such concepts as classification schemes, spatial coordinate systems and numerical concepts. These same skills are also important in graphic design, including reproducing letters, numbers and geometric figures. Problems with visual perception can lead to poor spelling, poor word recognition, an inability to discern similarities and differences, poor reading comprehension, poor handwriting and copying, letter reversals, poor understanding of concepts and difficulty with abstract reasoning.
How prevalent are visual problems?
Studies show that 70 percent of poor learners have a significant visual dysfunction. These children often suffer needlessly since the majority of visual issues can be effectively treated.
How do we test for visual problems?
Dr. Devin Depner tests for visual efficiency difficulties during the initial eye exam at our office. A perceptual evaluation is then scheduled. This evaluation consists of 30 sub-tests specifically designed to probe the most commonly occurring perceptual and/or cognitive disorders that can lead to learning/reading difficulty. The evaluation involves testing for visual perception, visual integration, visual memory, reversals and dyslexia to name a few. Once visual challenges have been identified they can be treated.
How are visual problems treated?
Some visual problems can be treated with glasses alone. More complex visual problems require vision therapy. Vision therapy is an individualized, structured program of activities supervised by a doctor of optometry to develop efficient visual skills and processing. Most programs of vision therapy require weekly office visits in conjunction with daily home activities. The duration of the therapy program depends on the severity of the visual deficit and is generally 3 to 6 months in length.
How successful is vision therapy?
Studies show that vision therapy is very effective. Depending on the nature of the visual problem, cure rates vary from 52 percent to 95 percent. Please take a moment to look through our Vision Therapy Success Booklet and read what our patients have to say about their personal experiences with vision therapy.
You’re not alone.
If you are the parent of a child who is struggling in school, you are not alone. Every year millions of children have difficulty with reading and learning. Oftentimes parents don’t know where to turn for answers. Finding these answers in the early grades can mean the difference between a child enjoying and excelling at school and a child spending his scholastic years mired in failure and frustration.
Devin G. Depner, OD
Dr. Devin G. Depner graduated with distinction from Pacific University College of Optometry and is the recipient of the Tole Greenstein award for excellence in vision therapy. He completed a residency in Pediatric and Binocular Vision at the State University of New York College of Optometry. There he received advanced training in infant’s and children’s vision, the diagnosis and remediation of learning related visual disorders, as well as the non-surgical treatment of strabismus (eye turns) and amblyopia (lazy eye). Dr. Depner lectures frequently to parents, teachers, school psychologists, occupational therapists, and other professionals on vision and visually related learning problems.
Where do I begin?
The first step is to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Depner. If your child is not reading on grade level, we recommend that you also schedule a perceptual evaluation.