Monthly Archives: August 2014

Back to School in Montgomery County: Setting Children with Learning-Related Vision Problems Up for Classroom Success


It’s that time of year again. We’re back-to-school planning, shopping, and prepping here in Olney, Silver Spring, and the surrounding Montgomery County area. Parents, teachers, and administrators are working hard to lay the groundwork for another successful school year.

At the Visual Learning Center, we are proud to play a part in setting students up for success, and we’re fortunate to work with parents and educators who want the best for the children in our community. That’s why Dr. Philip Nicholson has committed to presenting workshops at area schools and centers about learning-related vision problems this year, as well as making more information and resources available about learning-related vision problems and vision therapy.

What we’ve found is that while parents and educational professionals are aware of common learning disabilities, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorder, visual processing problems with similar signs and symptoms still remain largely unknown. Most people mistakenly believe a visit to the family eye doctor with a diagnosis of 20/20 eyesight or a subscription for corrective lenses means their child has been cleared of vision problems that could interfere with learning.

Unfortunately, many learning-related vision problems go undetected and untreated. As this school year gets underway, we encourage you to be vigilant for the following behaviors and clues that could indicate a child has a vision problem:

  • The ability to demonstrate knowledge orally but not do as well on written tests and assignments
  • Performing below grade level or lower than expected despite being obviously bright
  • Reversing letters when reading or writing (in 2nd grade and beyond)
  • Consistently confusing words that are similar
  • Squinting while reading near or far
  • Difficulty copying from the board
  • Rubbing eyes continuously throughout the day
  • Rubbing temples or forehead and complaining of headaches
  • Complaints of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Skipping words or losing place while reading
  • Being easily distracted, inattentive, or having a lot of difficulty staying on task
  • Disruptive behavior, especially after expressing frustration with work
  • Homework takes hours to complete, with lots of struggle and coaxing from parents
  • Poor hand-eye coordination, depth perception, or awkwardness and clumsiness

If you suspect a child might have a learning-related vision problem, such as an eye movement deficiency or poor visual processing skills, the good news is an individualized comprehensive vision therapy program can lead to remarkable improvement quickly. The first step is to schedule a functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care.

Unlike a typical eye exam that only screens for clear vision at a distance, functional vision exams check for the coordination of eye muscles and test to ensure the visual processing system is working efficiently.

A healthy vision system can function well over prolonged periods of time, which is necessary in a classroom setting; however, if the child has a vision deficiency, learning and performance can be affected. Compensating for visual deficiencies will cause fatigue and frustration, possibly leading to diminished effort, behavioral problems, and lower self-esteem.

At the Visual Learning Center, we have a long track record of success stories. Dr. Nicholson himself benefited from vision therapy as a child, so he is committed to improving the lives and academic achievement for children who struggled like he did.

To discover more about the relationship between vision and learning, be sure to watch our webinar and download our free guide. To find out more about vision therapy, check out our free resources for educators. If you want to book Dr. Nicholson to speak at your school or organization, click here to learn about his workshops and seminars.

Best wishes to Montgomery County parents, teachers, and students for an outstanding school year.  

Will smartphones and tablets make learning-related vision problems worse?

Life in the 21st century demands more from our children’s visual processing systems than ever before. Children use their vision at school and home differently than we have in the past. In general, today’s students spend less time than past generations on the playground, exploring the outdoors, or engaged in activities that do not involve focusing on a screen.

For both classroom and recreational use, children focus on screens with back-lighted text and digital images. Computers, televisions, smart phones, tablets, video game devices, and even classroom ActivBoards and Promethan boards demand their attention to complete assignments, do research, and entertain.

Technological advancements are a wonderful thing, but excessive reliance on technology can cause eyestrain and stress for even the healthiest visual system. For children that have visual deficiencies, the problem can be even worse.

For a child with a vision problem, environmental stresses caused by the proliferation of technology can induce blurred vision, double vision, eyestrain, headaches, motion sickness, and an even further reduced ability to function in a classroom setting under normal conditions. Reading, writing, and school performance can become even more difficult, because the child has had little time to rest his eyes at home.

Video games and web surfing may hold their attention while also straining their vision; so then when it’s time to complete work, their eyes have become more tired and their visual processing system more fatigued. An existing undiagnosed vision deficiency, such as convergence insufficiency or an eye teaming or eye tracking problem, often becomes more pronounced.

Fortunately, with the benefit of a comprehensive individualized vision therapy program, students will be able to:

  • focus better
  • improve eye tracking and eye teaming
  • enhance hand-eye coordination
  • reduce blurry or double vision
  • strengthen visual processing abilities
  • and more…

Preventing your child from using technology is not the answer. Just as we continued watching television when our parents warned us we would “ruin” our eyes, today’s children will continue to use computers and other digital devices.

While placing limits on technology can help to ease environmental strain, some video games, apps, and television programming are educational. Being able to use technology will likely be important to your child’s long-term success and happiness, so why not get him or her the help needed?

Children with vision problems can best enjoy technology along with their peers if they have undergone vision therapy training to strengthen their visual processing system.

If you suspect your child might have a learning-related vision problem that is exacerbated by the environmental stresses of technology, schedule functional vision exam with an optometrist who specializes in developmental vision care and vision therapy as soon as possible.

If you are in Olney, Maryland, or nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, contact the Visual Learning Center today.

gifted student with a learning-related vision problem

Could Your Gifted Child Have a Learning-Related Vision Problem?


Vision problems are often initially suspected when a child performs poorly in school or below grade level on standardized tests; however, there is another population of children that can be easily overlooked if we focus primarily low grades and test scores as indicators of possible vision deficiencies. Because abilities are individual and measurements in school are typically relative, gifted and talented students with vision problems may still be able to get better grades and scores than their classmates.

When a student earns relatively good grades and scores well on assessments, parents and educators may be less likely to notice a vision problem. Instead, when the child doesn’t perform quite as well as expected, he is perhaps even more likely than his classmates to be accused of laziness or not applying himself.

Gifted students with vision problems are often adept at compensating for their deficiencies. They use strong abstract reasoning skills to develop strategies to work around their problems. They tend to catch on quickly, figure out how something should be done, verbally express well-reasoned answers easily, and offer up quick-witted ideas and thoughts to illustrate that they obviously understand the material.

Compensating for a learning-related vision problem, however, can be just as troublesome for a gifted student as other children with learning-related vision problems. Attempting to always perform up to their parents’ and teachers’ elevated expectations can lead to fatigue, headaches, emotional, and behavioral problems. Their self-esteem can be affected, because they are aware of their intelligence level, recognize that they grasp concepts more easily than their classmates, and are cognizant of their tendency to think in complex ways; however, they may not understand why they are not able to consistently outperform or compete with their peers.

To cope, gifted students with vision problems may use sarcasm, physically display exaggerated boredom, and play off of the idea that they are “smarter” than the other students in order to avoid work. Parents and teachers often suspect attention deficit disorder, because the child appears to have trouble paying attention and may exhibit what they perceive as tell-tale ADHD behavioral problems.

It is important for parents to understand that while giftedness is recognized early as a form of developmental advancement associated with certain intellectual strengths, bright students face learning challenges too. When a child is not performing at his expected potential, it is time to pay attention, get the appropriate assessments, and find the help he or she needs.

For a better understanding of how vision is related to learning, click here.

For a list of signs and symptoms associated with learning-related vision problems, click here.

If you suspect that your gifted child may have a learning-related vision problem, contact a developmental optometrist and schedule a functional vision exam right away. Unfortunately, gifted students often fall through the cracks of the education system, as attention and resources are directed towards students who are unable to perform on level.

The good news is, with an individualized vision therapy program, significant progress can be made within a relatively short period of time, and your gifted child can begin achieving at a rate aligned with her potential.

If you are in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center for a comprehensive assessment today.