Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Vision Disorder Could Be to Blame for Your Child’s Frequent Headaches Even With 20/20 Eyesight

Does you child often complain of headaches? Headaches in children can stem from a wide range of causes; so if your child does get frequent headaches, you should consult your pediatrician to rule out serious conditions.

But one often-overlooked cause of headaches in children is treatable. Children with undiagnosed functional vision problems commonly get headaches, and functional vision problems can be corrected with vision therapy.

You might be thinking your child is in the clear if he or she has 20/20 eyesight or wears corrective lenses. Most parents are aware that nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia) can cause headaches in children, but typical eye exams and school vision screenings do not test for many common vision problems that often cause headaches.

In children, many tension headaches are caused by eyestrain or eye fatigue that is exacerbated by underlying vision problems.

Convergence insufficiency is a medical condition in which the brain has trouble accurately, efficiently, and comfortably coordinating the eye muscles to see properly for a prolonged period of time at reading distance. People with Convergence Insufficiency find it difficult to keep their eyes working together smoothly as a team, and their eyes tend to drift outwardly when attempting to focus on text or other items at a near distance. Children with a healthy visual system are able to aim their eyes naturally and easily. If a child has convergence insufficiency, he will struggle to aim his eyes, and the extra effort causes fatigue and headaches.


Straining to read when the text looks like this can lead to frequent headaches in children with vision problems.

Accommodative (focusing) dysfunction is when a child has trouble using the eye muscles efficiently to bring an object into focus clearly and to maintain focus for a sustained period of time. The muscles that focus the lenses in our eyes have to adjust quickly and often to see various points of visual interest clearly, or sustain that clear focus without vision becoming fuzzy or blurred. If a child is getting frequent headaches, it may be due to the constant strain of trying to focus his eyes–something that comes naturally and automatically to his classmates.

Amblyopia (lazy eye) is a condition that causes reduced vision in one eye. During development, something prevented normal and healthy connections between the child’s eyes and brain; and the deficiency causes the brain to suppress images from the affected eye and favor the other eye. As you can imagine, the unaffected eye becomes overused and strained, which can lead to frequent tension headaches.

Poor visual processing skills can also cause headaches in children. Visual processing is comprised of a complex system of neurological activity. Many children lack good visual processing skills due to a delay in development or a vision disorder. These children have trouble computing visual input, leading to problems with visual-motor integration and speed, visualization, visual memory, and more. The extra effort they need to put forth to learn and complete tasks can cause stress and tension headaches.

For a child with a vision problem, use of technology can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. Many children spend little time resting their eyes; because in addition to school work, they watch television, play video games, and use computers, tablets, and smartphones. This can cause eye fatigue for any child, but those with undiagnosed and untreated vision disorders are more susceptible to experiencing recurring headaches from too much screen time.

Click here to read 9 signs that your child could have a learning-related vision problem that may cause headaches.

Click here to watch a webinar to learn more about vision problems in children.

The good news is, vision therapy addresses and treats many common vision problems that cause headaches in children. But the first step is always to determine the cause of the headaches.

If you suspect your child’s frequent headaches might be caused by a vision problem, schedule a comprehensive vision exam by a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care.

If your family is in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, click here to make an appointment with Dr. Philip Nicholson at the Visual Learning Center.





Vision Therapy Helps Children Who Struggle With Visual Motor Integration

Visual-motor integration (VMI) is the function that ensures our eyes and the movement of our hands work together efficiently and smoothly. Healthy VMI coordinates and assimilates visual perception (input), visual processing (decoding), and visual output through the fine motor skill of writing.

Click here to watch a video about how vision affects learning.

When you think of hand-eye or eye-hand coordination and learning, you might think it’s only challenging for early learners fumbling to grasp and control jumbo-sized markers and crayons. Once your child seems to have the hang of holding his pencil, you may not expect visual-motor integration to significantly affect learning; but undetected deficiencies in your child’s visual-motor skills can interfere with paper-pencil work in elementary school and beyond.

Even if a child is working with an Occupational Therapist (OT) to improve motor skills, this may not address possible problems with visual perception. OTs are trained to work with children to improve and strengthen specific skills and abilities, but deficiencies in the visual processing system can interfere with a child’s ability to make progress.

Visual-motor integration includes the ability to first correctly perceive visual information as a form, such as a letter, and then correctly replicate it. In early elementary years, children with delayed or disordered VMI have trouble with seemingly simple tasks such as copying their name or even copying basic shapes–what they write or draw does not look like the word or shape they are using for a guide.

Other signs of visual-motor dysfunction include:

  • Messy handwriting
  • Poor test taking, despite knowing the material
  • Trouble gripping or repeatedly re-gripping pencil
  • Difficulty writing within lines
  • Excessive erasing
  • Slow to complete assignments
  • Leaning close to paper
  • Lots of omissions and errors in work

Click here for 9 signs your child may have an undiagnosed vision problem.

While we tend to appreciate the importance of high-functioning visual-motor integration for activities such as sports, art, or music, research findings demonstrate a notable correlation between visual-motor integration skills and academic performance in writing, spelling, reading, and math. Even when taking learning disabilities and overall cognitive abilities into account, poor visual-motor integration has been shown to impact standardized test scores. Low VMI skills in Kindergarten have also been shown to predict reading abilities in middle school.

For students with visual motor deficiencies, coordinating their visual perception, visual processing, and fine motor output is so challenging that they have significant difficulty with tasks such as copying information from the board or from a book onto paper. Because of this, learning occurs more slowly and overall performance is affected. They have trouble following instructions, completing worksheets and other written assignments, and writing answers on tests. They know the material being covered, but putting pencil to paper is not as easy for them as it is for their peers.

If you suspect your child may be struggling with visual motor integration, the first step is to schedule a functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care. Once diagnosed, the good news is, an individualized vision therapy program can result in noticeable improvement in a relatively short period of time.

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