Vision and Reading/Attention

Vision and Reading/Attention

Did you know that 80% of problem readers are deficient in 1 or more visual skills?  Seeing clearly is only one of 17 visual skills needed for reading and learning.

Tracking and other visual problems are often not evaluated during testing for learning disabilities.

We use our vision to gather information and coordinate our bodies. This applies to everything from taking in information about our environment, recognizing objects and forms, coordinating our eyes while reading, determining exactly where to shoot a basketball, or even how to move a pencil through the shapes of letter. If there are skills lacking anywhere within this process it can create an unnecessary barrier that can result in lack of interest, poor performance, and even behavioral issues.

  • Identify what we see by location, velocity, and other attributes
  • Store this information so it can be retrieved in the future
  • Integrate the visual information with all of our other senses- including awareness of our body
  • Compare this information to information stored from previous experiences
  • Derive meaning from both the new information, and analysis of the old information vs the new information
  • Determine where we are in space and/or where the object or area of interest is relative to our surroundings and us.
  • Perform an action based on the above steps
  • Direct our movement or thoughts based on previous steps
  • Think of how crucial these skills are to the learning process!
Here are two videos taken with the Readalyzer Infrared recording system of patients reading
Good Reader

Poor Reader

Kids don’t grow out of significant vision problems, so these problems don’t just go away. Many adults face the same problems

There have been several studies that have linked vision dysfunction with juvenile delinquency. Researchers have found that 70-95% of juvenile delinquents studied had a vision problem. One theory is that vision problems make it difficult to achieve in school, which causes feelings of failure, low self-esteem and disinterest in academics. Consequently, other behaviors are developed. These behaviors may predispose a young child towards criminality. In fact, during a California funded study, recidivism (repeat offenders) reduced from 45% to 16% when wards received on-site optometric vision therapy at the Regional Youth Education Facility in San Bernardino, CA.

Beyond the teenage years, one study showed that when illiterate adults were vision screened, there was a 74% failure rate. Illiteracy is a growing problem in our country. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five Americans are unable to read or speak well enough to function effectively in their daily lives. That is roughly 35 million Americans. Perhaps this number would not be so high if we caught those people with vision problems early on and corrected them, making it easier for them to learn how to read by having an efficient visual system. (

Visually related learning issues are common

It has been estimated that 1 out of 4 children in the U.S. have learning problems. This is roughly 2-7 million children struggling to achieve in school. 25% of ALL children have a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance in school. According to research on just learning disabled populations, the number of kids with significant learning related vision problems can soar closer to 85% in their studies.

Many of these children are officially diagnosed with a learning disability in part to receive special education services to help them with their difficulties, and many continue to need special services throughout their school experience. This can be a pretty expensive load on the school budget (and on the taxpayer), not to mention on the child’s self esteem and future success. Unfortunately, the number of children receiving special services for learning disabilities is on the rise. Many of these services focus on learning to cope rather than treating the underlying issue.

75% of those identified as learning disabled have their biggest deficit in reading. Out of those children who are reading disabled, 80% of them have difficulties with one or more basic visual skills. Fortunately, these visual deficits can be treated successfully by vision training, as volumes of research studies have illustrated. Though vision is only one factor that can be associated with learning problems, if the children with primarily vision related problems were discovered sooner and treated promptly, the number of children in special education may not be as high.

But what does it mean to be learning disabled?

Traditionally in schools, children are considered learning disabled when they are about two grade levels behind in reading, writing or mathematics despite average intelligence, educational opportunity, and fairly normal home/social environment. They also have been found through standardized testing that their performance is significantly below their potential. This means they are usually in third grade before they receive special services (unless they were lucky enough to qualify for the Title I program, which is another story some of you may be familiar with) and already at a disadvantage compared to the rest of their peers.

Is there something we can do, as parents, educators and professionals, to help these kids obtain the skills they need so they can perform at their potential before they get so far behind in school?

Learning disabilities can occur for a multitude of reasons

There may be a physiological, psychological, developmental, environmental, genetic, behavioral, social or combination of these factors that cause a child to be diagnosed as learning disabled. Though it is difficult to pinpoint where the problems stem from, one important factor that is often overlooked is vision.

According to research, many children that are considered learning disabled have clinically significant visual problems. Yet, these children are often labelled dyslexic or as having a specific learning disability before vision is ruled out as a possible contributory factor.

Once a child’s performance significantly falls below their potential, they are tested to see if they have a learning disability. To evaluate learning disabled (LD) children, a series of specialists are called upon to discover where areas of deficit are occurring and how they can be remediated. This team of specialists is called a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). MDT’s decide whether or not your child qualifies for special education services. Unfortunately, eye doctors are not usually on an MDT and vision problems still go undiagnosed.

If a child does qualify for special education services, they are fortunate enough to have specialists assist them with their education, but are now very far behind their classmates. If vision was taken out of the equation earlier so it was not one of the factors hindering that child’s performance, it is possible that special education services may never have been needed.

Vision, however, is RARELY the only factor in why a child may not be meeting their potential, though it can be a major contributor. It is important to remember that all our senses must work together to bring us information from the world around us; a problem may lie in a single area, such as vision, but usually, learning difficulties occur are caused by a combination of factors.

So is there something you can do?

There is something parents, educators and professionals can do to help children obtain the visual skills they need before they fall way behind in school. Parents can ensure that their children get regular vision exams beginning at 6 months old from a developmental or behavioural optometrist who specializes in vision development. Schools can conduct better screenings to help identify students with potential vision problems that can affect learning. These screenings must go beyond a distance Snellen letter chart.

Parents and teachers can also observe and learn to recognize signs and symptoms of learning-related visual problems. Knowing when a child is having vision symptoms and knowing when to refer them to an eye doctor that specializes in visual function can significantly reduce the number of children experiencing learning difficulties.

To learn how some signs and symptoms of visual problems, click here.

The earlier vision problems are detected and remediated, the less time will pass where individuals fall behind if left untreated.
Vision problems can be corrected. Vision does not have to be part of the learning problem.  Please Contact us for more information.

Below is courtesy of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development

A learning-related visual problem directly affects how we learn, read, or sustain close work. Visual problems in any of the following areas can have a significant impact on learning:
  • Eye tracking skills – eyes following a line of print
  • Eye teaming skills – two eyes working together as a synchronized team
  • Binocular vision – simultaneously blending the images from both eyes into one image
  • Accommodation – eye focusing
  • Visual-motor integration – eye-hand coordination
  • Visual perception – visual memory, visual form perception, and visualization

As vision and learning are intimately connected, a vision problem can be easily mistaken for a learning problem. Youngsters with visual problems can be misdiagnosed as having Learning Disabilities, ADHD, or Dyslexia. There are various reasons for this misdiagnosis. For example, children who have learning-related visual problems cannot sustain their close work at school. They may be misdiagnosed as ADHD because children with ADHD also can’t sustain attention on their work. Same behaviors, different diagnosis.

Used with permission from authored by Dr. Mary McMains, OD, MEd, FCOVD. Is your child having psych-ed testing done in Victoria or have they been diagnosed with a reading or learning disability? underlying visual problems may not have been tested for. Contact us for an examanation.

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