Millions of children are heading back to their classrooms without the visual skills required to succeed in school. One of the reasons for this is that most people assume if you can see the letters on the eye chart your vision is fine, yet being able to see the letters on the eye chart is just one of 17 visual skills necessary for academic success.
“The myth that ’20/20′ means you have perfect vision started in the 1800’s when the eye chart was created,” states Dr. Brad Habermehl, past President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. “This August marks the 20th year we have been observing August as National Children’s Vision and Learning Month. The purpose of this observance is to educate parents and educators that vision plays a critical role in our children’s education.”
Dr. Katherine Donovan, a psychiatrist from Charleston, SC is joining the campaign this year to share her story in the hopes that it will help other families with children who are struggling. “It wasn’t until my own child had problems with reading that I discovered that my medical training was missing a very valuable piece of information which turned out to be the key to helping my daughter, Lily. While I had taken Lily to many ophthalmologists and learning specialists, desperate to understand why this very bright child still could not read well, or write legibly at age 12, I always got the same answers: ‘her vision’s fine’ and ‘she’s dyslexic.'”
“As a physician, I had been taught that vision therapy was controversial and could not treat learning disabilities. However, my personal experience with my daughter proved to me that vision therapy worked, when nothing else did,” Dr. Donovan shares. “While vision therapy cannot treat learning disabilities, per se, it absolutely corrected a vision problem which was blocking Lily from being able to learn. After a visit with a developmental optometrist who tested over 15 visual skills critical to reading and learning, I was shocked to learn that Lily was seeing double out to three FEET—which meant that when she tried to read, the words were double. No wonder she hated to read!”
Following optometric vision therapy, “Lily now reads 300 pages a day, in her free time; she puts down ‘reading’ as her favorite hobby; and she has a 95-average at Buist Academy with NO help from me on her homework! Prior to this, I’d been spending three to four hours each night, for many years, tutoring Lily,” Dr. Donovan shares with delight.
Optometric vision therapy treats vision problems that make reading and learning difficult. While vision therapy does not treat dyslexia, vision problems can often be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities such as dyslexia or even ADHD. According to the American Optometric Association, studies indicate that 60 percent of children identified as “problem learners” actually suffer from undetected vision problems, and in some cases have been inaccurately diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
According to Dr. Habermehl, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if a child is seeing double, ghosty or unstable texts 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.
“When students understand the lesson when it is read to them yet struggle to read it (silently to themselves or out loud) this is a very strong sign that a vision problem may be contributing to their difficulties,” advises Dr. Habermehl.
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:
- Do you test for learning-related vision problems?
- Do you provide an in-office vision therapy program when indicated, or will you refer me to someone who does?
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.