As school starts across the United States, the pressure is back on teachers, parents and students to meet or surpass the requirements set forth by the No Child Left Behind act. However, most parents and teachers are unwittingly being tackled by leaving their students' vision behind.
"In football you know when you are being tackled, but unfortunately it is more subtle for parents and educators," Larry Fitzgerald states, "When a student passes a vision screening everyone assumes their vision is fine and the door is closed on the possibility that a correctable vision disorder is contributing to the student's difficulty with reading. Yet the majority of vision screenings don't test how well, or how long, the student can see clearly at reading distance."
As we enter the 15th year of observing August as National Children's Vision and Learning Month, Larry Fitzgerald joins the campaign again this year to help set the record straight on the critical link between vision and learning. "The purpose of this observance is to make sure everyone knows that there are 17 visual skills required for academic success and seeing 20/20 is just one of those visual skills," Fitzgerald states.
"I was one of those students who didn't have all the visual skills required for learning. But I was fortunate that my vision problems were caught early in life," shares Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who turns 27 on August 31st, is continuing his education through the University of Phoenix as a communications major.
Fitzgerald had a vision problem that was making it difficult to pay attention in school and his grandfather, Dr. Robert Johnson, a developmental optometrist in Chicago, Illinois, diagnosed the vision problem and prescribed the appropriate treatment, optometric vision therapy.
Dr. Stephanie Johnson-Brown, Fitzgerald's aunt supervised his vision therapy program. Dr. Johnson-Brown is currently the executive director of the Plano Child Development Center, a not-for-profit vision care service corporation which was co-founded by her father, Dr. Johnson, in 1959. The center specializes in vision education and the identification and remediation of vision development problems in children and adults.
Fitzgerald credits the optometric vision therapy he received as a child as one of the keys to his success. Because children don't know how they are supposed to see and rarely complain, this past March, Fitzgerald made sure his 2-year-old son, Devin's vision was developing properly, by having his aunt do a thorough vision evaluation. Dr. Johnson-Brown was pleased to report all is well.
Optometric vision therapy treats vision problems that make reading and learning difficult. According to Dr. Bradley Habermehl, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that if a child is seeing double, ghosty or unstable text it will be hard to read. Yet, if you assume vision is fine, the only possible conclusion one can reach is the child has a learning disability such as ADHD or dyslexia." According to the American Optometric Association, studies indicate that 60 percent of children identified as "problem learners" actually suffer from undetected vision problems.
Even though there is a wealth of optometric research which proves vision therapy works, there is false or misleading information in the medical community about vision therapy. It can be confusing for parents and educators when they get conflicting opinions.
However, Brock Eide, M.D., M.A. and Fernette Eide, M.D., leading clinicians and writers on learning disabilities state, "In spite of the very positive research findings validating the role vision plays in learning, some are still claiming visual dysfunction plays little or no role in the reading challenges that dyslexics face. This is a shame. When we look specifically at the results of studies performed to address specific visual issues, the evidence supporting visual therapy is quite strong."
The Eides run the Eide Neurolearning Clinic in Edmonds, Washington, are authors of the popular book, The Mislabled Child: How Understanding Your Child's Unique Learning Style Can Open the Door to Success, and lecture throughout the U.S. and Canada to parents, educators, therapists, and doctors. Drs. Eides have published extensively in the fields of gifted education, learning disabilities, and twice exceptionalities such as giftedness and dyslexia, and served as consultants to the President's Council on Bioethics.
"While not all children or adults with dyslexia have visual processing problems, many --at least two-thirds in some studies-- do. This makes sense from a neurological standpoint, because several of the structural neurological features associated with dyslexia appear to predispose to visual difficulties," Dr. Brock Eide adds.
"Not surprisingly, several types of visual difficulties are more common in dyslexic than non-dyslexic children. In one study of dyslexic children, just one type of visual problem, near-point convergence insufficiency, was present in 30-40% of the dyslexic children, compared to just 20% of controls. As can be seen from this control figure, visual processing problems are also quite common in non-dyslexic school-age children," Eide continues.
Dr. Fernette Eide explains, "The bottom line is that visual problems are common, though not universal, in children who struggle to read; and optometric vision therapy can help address visual problems in children with significant visual dysfunction. A good visual examination is an important part of the workup of every struggling reader."
Dr. Jen Simonson at Boulder Valley Vision Therapy diagnoses and treats vision problems that interfere with academic success, "When students understand the lesson when it is read to them yet struggle to read it this is a very strong sign that a vision problem may be contributing to their difficulties." The five most common signs that a vision problem may be interfering with your student'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
Any one of these symptoms is a sign of a possible vision problem. A more in-depth symptoms checklist is available on COVD's website.
Not all eye doctors test for learning-related vision problems, so it is important for parents to ask the right questions. Call your eye doctor's office and ask the following two questions:
1. Do you test for learning-related vision problems?
2. Do you provide an in-office vision therapy program when indicated, or will you refer me to someone who does?
If the answer is no to either one or both of these questions, visit COVD's website, www.covd.org, to find a developmental optometrist near you.
"Vision therapy made a big difference in my life and my career," shares Fitzgerald; "It is my hope that parents will take the time to learn more about how vision problems can interfere with success in school and in sports."
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.