Monthly Archives: August 2014

Can Vision Therapy Improve Performance in Math?

Learning-related vision problems are often first suspected due to poor performance in reading and writing, or because of behavioral problems that develop due to frustration with vision struggles at school. However, children with visual learning problems may struggle with math as well.

Though many children with vision problems perform better in math than they do in reading, math performance can also be affected by poor visual processing skills. You might wonder why math is not equally as difficult as reading for these students; this is because math does not always require as much sustained and controlled eye movement as reading.

With the exception of word problems, students are not required to follow along a line of text, recognize and remember as many combinations of symbols, or remain focused on blocks of text for long periods of time. But poor visual processing skills that interfere with reading performance may also cause students to struggle with math.

Just as in reading and writing letters, math requires skills in laterality and directionality. Writing or processing numbers backwards or flipped can cause confusion and frustration for a child. Imagine mistaking 17 with 71, confusing a 9 for a 6, inverting greater than and lesser than signs, or calculating an equation in the incorrect order.

Similar to when a child loses his place while reading, poor tracking skills might cause him to lose his place within a math problem. He will have to keep numbers lined up properly and organized to calculate even basic math, such as aligning columns of numbers for adding, or following the diagonal movement of a division or multiplication problem.

If your child has trouble focusing or pointing his eyes as a team and struggles with double vision, numbers may be duplicated, misaligned, or he may make an error in the ‘place’ relative to a decimal point. A misplaced decimal point or number placement can easily throw off an entire equation for anyone, so someone who has a vision problem is even more prone to such errors.

Poor visualization and spatial skills could make it difficult for a child to understand mathematical concepts, such as value, quantities, magnitude, and volume. Similar to reading comprehension, your child may need to create a mental image and associate meaning to amounts in order to process a math problem. This becomes even more difficult as math becomes more complex in later years.

Symptoms of a vision problem that may be evident while a child is working on math include reversing and flipping numbers, performing poorly on word or story problems, counting on fingers, performing better in oral drills than working on paper, messy and misaligned work, and working very slowly to eventually get the correct answer. Again, you are more likely to detect a vision problem during reading and writing, but do not overlook signs while your child is working on math.

Fortunately, an individualized vision therapy program can help to reduce the struggles your child might be facing with math.

If you suspect your child could have a learning-related visual processing problem, schedule a comprehensive functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care. If you are in the Olney or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an exam today.

 

 

Vision Therapy Exercise: Letter Tracking Activity

You may notice that your child is skipping letters or words when reading. You might obseve that your child can not distinctly identify the left or right side of his body, or be able to recognize direction applied to objects and symbols such as letters. You may see him flipping or reversing letters when writing, or recognize that he is unable to distinguish ‘p’ from ‘q’ or ‘b’ from ‘d’ while reading. If so, it’s possible that your child has a visual processing problem, such as poor visual discrimination.

Visual discrimination is a perceptual process that involves the ability to correctly identify basic features of a visual stimulus, such as text. Discrimination allows us to see and identify shape, size, orientation, and color.

Weakness in the area of visual discrimination leads to skipping letters or words when reading, or poor laterality and directionality. Laterality and directionality are skills required to write and recognize words with the correct orientation, or direction.

A visual processing problem, such as poor visual discrimination can be identified through a comprehensive functional vision exam, by a trained developmental optometrist.

Once a child is diagnosed with a visual processing problem, fortunately, an individualized vision therapy program will likely lead to significant improvement quickly. (Click here to view vision therapy success stories.)

In addition to in-office vision therapy, Dr. Philip Nicholson of the Visual Learning Center in Olney, MD, also recommends supplemental vision therapy activities that can be done at home.

One example of a vision therapy activity that can be practiced outside of the office is letter tracking. Letter tracking activities are designed to improve eye movement skills and visual processing skills, such as discrimination.

The vision therapy letter tracking activity involves drawing a continuous line, looping and circling letters of the alphabet, in sequential order, as directed. Patients first strive for accuracy, and then progress toward greater speed while maintaining accuracy. If the patient skips letters, he will find that the activity cannot be completed, and he can start again. This activity is useful to improve visual discrimination and reduce the errors that occur in reading, writing, and other activities due to poor visual discrimination.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of letter tracking and download a letter tracking packet here.

Should you wish to learn more about this vision therapy activity for visual discrimination improvement or schedule an appointment with Visual Learning Center in Olney, Maryland, contact us today at (301) 570-4611.

How Vision Problems Interfere with Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension refers to a child’s ability to not only read the text on a page, but also process it and understand its meaning.

For a child to develop reading comprehension, the entire visual processing system must work efficiently. Seeing the text clearly is only the first step in the process. Your child must know how to sound out a word or remember a word on sight, understand each word’s meaning, and then make sense of sentences and paragraphs.

Intelligence is one factor in reading comprehension, but there are many more factors that come into play in a child’s ability to both read and comprehend. Some bright children have difficulty with reading comprehension due to problems with their visual processing system.

In order to read, we take in visual information in the form of text and then decode it into mental images to which we assign meaning, and then retain and use those images to categorize and recall for future use.

Taking in visual information efficiently requires the coordination of hundreds of eye muscles and strong oculomotor control. If there is a weakness or deficiency, this can affect a child’s ability to focus both eyes on the same spot simultaneously or to move their eyes smoothly as a team across a line of text. Poor eye tracking,  eye teaming, or focus leads to difficulty and frustration for a child, and the extra effort to take in visual information may cause fatigue, headaches, or the inability to maintain attention.

Once the visual information is taken in through the eyes, the process of comprehension has only just begun.  Next up, a child’s brain will have to run the information through the process of visual perception, meaning they will have to be able to extract the information they see and use it appropriately.

Efficient visual perception is needed for a child to recognize and remember letters, words, and their meaning. If a child has a deficiency related to visual perception, he will struggle with minor differences in similar words or letters. This may lead to confusing p with q or d with b, for example; or it may also mean conflating words with similar beginnings, reading words backwards, or having difficulty distinguishing the main idea of a story from a minor detail. Recognizing, remembering, and applying information quickly and easily is critical for performance in reading comprehension, and student must have a healthy vision system to do so.

The following are specific ways visual perceptual processing may interfere with reading comprehension:

Visual Spatial Skills and Visual Discrimination are required to organize visual space and understand directional concepts and orientation. A child with poor visual spatial and discrimination skills may process a letter or word backwards.

Visualization is the ability to create a mental image in one’s mind, which is important for processing and remembering information for comprehension. When someone says, “I see what you mean,” we think of this a an idiom, but when it comes to reading and visual processing, we really are creating mental images that help us to comprehend. We’re essentially seeing something in our mind.

Visual Memory is the ability to retain information that you have learned. A child must be able to recognize and remember a word from one page, assignment, and day to the next. He must create an image of that word or set of words in his mind and recall it as needed.

Visual Sequential Memory refers to the ability to remember the proper sequence of words, letters, or story narrative, in the same order it was seen originally. Keeping the images of what they recall in order is of course critical to comprehension.

So, as you can see, the ability to comprehend is not simply a function of intelligence.

If a child is having difficulty moving and coordinating his eye muscles properly and then the child also has difficulty processing that information visually in his brain, he is going to perform poorly in the area of reading comprehension as a result.

If a student has a visual processing problem, reading comprehension can be improved significantly and relatively quickly with an individualized comprehensive vision therapy plan. If you suspect your child has a learning-related vision problem that interferes with reading comprehension, contact a developmental optometrist for a functional vision exam and vision therapy program.

If you are in the Olney. Maryland area, convenient to Silver Spring, schedule an appointment with Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center today.

Vision Therapy Exercise: Discrimination Orientation Arrows Activity

If your child struggles with determining the correct letter orientation — or reversing letters when writing — due to a visual processing skills deficiency, vision therapy exercises can help.

Discrimination Orientation Arrows (DOA) is a vision therapy activity that develops visual discrimination, which is a skill essential in determining correct letter orientation and preventing letter reversals among students with learning-related vision problems.

In this activity, students work with a sheet of paper that contains a series of arrows, which are pointing in various directions. The vision therapist asks students to look at the sheet and indicate which direction each arrow is pointing, by saying “left” or “right” while the eyes are moving across the page.We encourage students to start slowly and allow for mistakes and self-correction to build their confidence.

This activity seeks to mimic the process of selecting a direction for each letter while writing.  “Should d point right or left? Should b point left or right? Which direction should I write q? Which direction should I write p?”

With practice, the outcome children enjoy is that they begin to catch their mistakes faster, reduce the frequency of errors, and dramatically boost their self-esteem. As the student improves, we incorporate a metronome into the activity and they use the beat to enhance deeper comprehension of discrimination orientation skills, until they become second nature. Soon, they will be writing b, d, q, p, etc. correctly, and with confidence.

Watch this video to see a demonstration of the Discrimination Orientation Arrows activity in progress and download a Discrimination Arrows activity packet here.

 

Should you wish to learn more about this vision therapy activity for letter reversals or schedule an appointment with Visual Learning Center in Olney, Maryland, contact us today at (301) 570-4611.

Can vision problems affect my child’s life outside of school?

While many vision problems are first suspected in a school setting or learning environment when a child has difficulty with reading, writing, math, or engages in disruptive classroom behavior, vision problems can also significantly affect the child’s life outside of school.

If a child has a visual processing issue, seemingly simple tasks may be more difficult for him than other children. He may struggle to learn how to tie his shoes, match his socks, or follow demonstrated instructions. You might notice that he has trouble remembering his own address, phone number, or retelling stories about something he watched on television or experienced.

Vision problems also affect social interaction. Your child might appear awkward, clumsy, or other children may complain that he is invading their personal space, because he has trouble with spatial and body awareness and depth perception. The other children might treat him differently because he has developed coping habits, such as constantly rubbing his eyes, squinting, or tilting his head, or because he often complains of headaches or nausea. He may become distracted while talking or ignore the rhythm of a conversation and other social cues. Children or other parents might unfairly judge this behavior as unmannerly or inconsiderate.

In addition to learning difficulties, vision problems can affect physical activity as well. A child with an untreated vision problem may perform poorly in sports due to clumsiness, poor hand-eye coordination, inability to focus, or skewed depth perception. They may be picked last for teams; or the the other children may leave them out of games or tease them.

At home, a child’s untreated vision problems may contribute to stress in the household. Homework can consume hours of family time. Parents often become frustrated or angry with a child if he keeps getting in trouble at school or ‘acting out’ with friends or siblings. Particularly if parents did well in school or sports, they may not be able to relate to their child’s struggles and suspect that their child is not trying or that he’s just ‘bad.’

Dealing with difficulty in school, awkwardness in social settings, poor performance in physical activities, and strained relationships with parents is a lot for a child to handle. While children with other learning disabilities may excel in sports or sociability, vision problems interfere more often beyond the classroom. Falling behind academically and being treated differently by peers and adults can lead to low self-esteem and withdrawal.

Fortunately, a personalized vision therapy program treats visual processing problems. Vision therapy, also known as vision training, is likely to significantly improve performance in academic, athletic, and social settings. In fact, one of the first benefits of vision therapy parents often report is that their child’s self-esteem improves dramatically shortly after starting a vision therapy program.

Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center treats visual processing problems with individualized vision therapy programs in our Olney, MD office, convenient to Silver Spring. Contact us today to schedule a comprehensive exam and consultation.

Teacher Appreciation Week: How Vision Therapy Can Help Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and we want to express a big thank you to all of the teachers who support students in the classroom. At the Visual Learning Center, we work daily with children who have struggled in school due to learning-related vision problems, sometimes for years before receiving a diagnosis; and their caring, patient, and skilled teachers deserve appreciation for their dedication to each child’s success.

Classroom teachers serve as our allies and partners in vision therapy, so we wish to celebrate their service to the community and welcome the opportunity offer our support in return.

When a child has difficulty in school — particularly if parents feel confident that their child is smart — teachers sometimes endure undue blame. Parents are understandably frustrated when a child performs poorly and may assume the teacher should know what to do to improve their child’s performance.

Teachers are educated in a wide variety of subject matter, teaching methods, and classroom management skills; and they receive training in detecting possible learning disabilities and special needs. However, the majority of teachers are unaware of how common learning-related vision problems are, and most teachers simply do not know how to recognize the symptoms.

Once teachers learn about how vision affects learning, they begin to recognize vision problems in their classroom right away and realize this is something they have been dealing with for years.

So, how can teachers get the help they need?

First, they have to be able to recognize vision symptoms that may affect learning, such as:

  • Squinting while reading near or far
  • Rubbing eyes continuously throughout the day
  • Rubbing temple or forehead and complaining of headaches
  • Complaints of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Skipping words or losing place while reading
  • Confusing similar words
  • Reversing letters
  • Easily distracted, inattentive, unable to stay on task
  • Disruptive behavior, especially after expressing frustration with work
  • Poor hand-eye coordination, depth perception, or awkwardness and clumsiness
  • Performs noticeably better orally than written

As you may recognize, many of these symptoms can also indicate learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, or even health problems; and consequently, misdiagnosis is common. A possible vision problem is often overlooked.

If you are a teacher, you can expect that parents may dismiss your suggestion that their child has a vision problem because he or she has “20/20 eyesight.”  It is important for teachers to understand that the vision problems that affect learning are not usually detected during routine vision screenings at school or typical vision exams with the family’s eye doctor.

Typical vision exams only test for eye sight, or vision clarity at a distance. However, vision involves an entire vision processing system — the coordination of eye muscles and the brain.

A healthy vision system can function well over prolonged periods of time in a classroom setting; but if the child has a vision problem, he will grow tired and frustrated, not understanding why he has so much trouble doing tasks that seem easy for his peers. So a child with vision problems might seem to give up, have low self-esteem, or act out as a result.

Once a child is properly diagnosed by an optometrist who specializes in functional and developmental vision care, he can take part in an intensive individualized vision therapy program, which is likely to bring about remarkably fast and long-term results.

To learn more about vision and vision therapy, download our free guide, watch our webinar, and see our resources for teachers and parents.

If you are a teacher in Olney, Silver Spring, or the surrounding area, invite Dr. Philip Nicholson to speak at your school or association. Click here to learn more.

The Real Reason Your Smart Child Might Be Testing “Below Grade Level”

Standardized tests have long been part of the education system in the United States; but over the past decade mandated standardized testing has increased significantly to become a core component of schooling and a critical measure of your child’s success as a student.

Proponents of standardized tests claim that they are a fair, effective, and efficient way to measure students’ progress and hold schools accountable to goals and expectations. On the other hand, critics argue that standardized tests distract from deeper learning, and that they are unfair because some children do not test well, despite knowing the material.

As a parent, no matter where you stand on this controversial issue, if your child is testing below grade level, it is important for you to find out why.

If your child seems bright, but does not perform well on standardized tests, your first response might be that the teacher is not doing a good job, or that the school is not offering an optimal learning environment, or that the test is unfair. You may have performed well in school and on standardized tests yourself, and feel that someone must be failing your child.  You know that your child is smart, so something must be wrong.

Teachers and counselors will probably suggest testing for a learning disability, or they might suspect dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. The teacher’s performance review and the school’s performance goals are often dependent on students meeting grade level expectations; so it is in everyone’s best interest to get your child the help he needs.

However, there is a common, but often overlooked, problem that may be hindering your child’s test-taking ability. The real reason your child might be testing below grade level could be due to a learning-related vision problem. A vision problem could be to blame for your child’s “below average” reading comprehension or slow test taking, even with “20/20” eyesight.

Vision problems that affect eye muscles and coordination may cause your child to see double or blurry, lose his place often, or experience fatigue and distracting headaches. A visual processing problem related to memory or visualization could be the reason behind delayed reading comprehension.

Unlike a routine vision screening or typical eye exams, school standardized tests require prolonged reading, intense focusing of the eyes for hours at a time, looking from the problem to the answer sheet repeatedly, the ability to follow straight lines to bubble-in answers, and more activities seemingly simple for a child with a normally functioning vision system.

Testing for hours may exacerbate a problem that has not yet surfaced during normal classroom activities, because the child’s eyes may become even more tired than usual.

Poor visual skills that interfere with standardized testing include processing speed and accuracy, selective concentration, visual memory, letter reversals, visual-motor integration and speed, and visualization.

If there is any possibility that a vision problem could be to blame for your child scoring “below grade level” on standardized tests, the first step is to schedule a comprehensive vision exam by a doctor of optometry who specializes in functional and developmental vision care.

If diagnosed with a learning-related vision problem, an individualized vision therapy program can significantly, and relatively quickly, improve your child’s performance. With proper treatment and practice, these vision problems can be overcome.

If you are in the Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment today.