Can an attention problem actually be a vision problem?

Many parents question their child’s attention span. When a child will not sit still, stay focused on a task long enough to complete it, stares into space too often, hops from subject to subject, jumps from activity to activity, or simply appears to have too much energy, the child’s spirited behavior can go from charming to concerning to, in some cases, alarming.

Could there be a problem with your child’s attention span?

You may wonder how long a normal attention span is, begin to compare your child’s attention span to those of their friends, and you may even start to suspect that your child has an attention problem, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Attention disorder diagnoses have become commonplace. However, most parents, teachers, and even trained psychologists and other professionals are unaware that childhood behavior that appears to be an attention problem could actually be caused by a vision problem in disguise.

Unfortunately, many parents only begin looking for alternative causes to attention problems when diagnosis, treatment, and medication for ADD/ADHD does not improve a child’s behavior or performance in school. This is because awareness about learning-related and behavioral-related vision problems is not as widely spread as knowledge of attention deficit disorders.

Attention is the ability to focus consciousness on a task. Studies show attention is the most essential factor for academic success; and in order for a student to be successful, he or she must first come to attention and then maintain attention on the task at hand. In school, these attention requirements largely involve strong visual processing skills.

What does attention have to do with vision?

The ability to stay on a task is often adversely affected by poor visual processing skills. If a child is unable to keep his or her eyes aimed properly, for prolonged periods, comfortably and easily, this deficit in the functioning of their eyes and visual processing system can interfere with their ability to maintain attention.

When visual processing skills are weak, the effort a student must put forth to keep their eyes turned correctly, aligned, and focused can cause unease, fatigue, and headaches. It’s easier and more natural for the child to give up on a task that requires sustained focus and move on to an activity that allows for more sporadic and unfocused eye movement. Talking in class and moving around the room causes far less frustration for them than aiming their eyes at the text on a paper in front of them, on a screen, or on the board.

Unable to enjoy the ease many of their peers experience in remaining focused on a visual task, a student may choose to doodle, talk in class, act out, or cause disruptions. So what looks like ADD/ADHD could very well be the result of a vision problem.

Research shows visual attention skills can be dramatically improved with intense, one-on-one vision training, also known as vision therapy.

In Olney, MD and convenient to Silver Spring and surrounding areas, Dr. Philip Nicholson, OD’s Visual Learning Center provides comprehensive evaluations to determine if your child might significantly benefit from vision therapy.

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