One of the biggest points of concern and confusion that parents have when they come to us is that they know their child is bright, but he or she is struggling in school. We often hear from parents who say their child had no trouble at all learning to read in Kindergarten, but by third or fourth grade the child has fallen far behind grade level performance expectations.
One common, but often-overlooked, cause for reading problems that develop later in development could be a learning-related vision problem.
When your child first learns basic reading skills, they learn ABCs one letter at a time, often in large, bold, colorful, and even tactile forms. Then they begin reading simple sentences in picture books with large spacious text. Their school books and worksheets all contain large text with lots of space, both to accommodate children’s fine motor skills and to ease them into the reading process.
But by third or fourth grade, reading and close work takes up a significantly greater amount of time in the classroom and during homework; and the text print on book pages and worksheets is much smaller than when they were first introduced to reading. Students in third grade and beyond are also required to copy from the board throughout the day. And all of these seemingly reasonable requirements can be extremely challenging for a child with a vision problem.
Learn more about how vision affects learning by watching this webinar for parents.
Large text and space is easy on the eyes. Reading one letter at a time, or a short sentence surrounded by lots of white space is not difficult for children with learning-related vision problems. Likewise, these children can pass a typical eye exam or school vision screening, one letter or short word at a time.
But most eye exams do not test for functional vision problems that interfere with reading. A typical eye exam only tests to determine if your child can see clearly at a distance for a period long enough to complete the exam, not eye movement and visual processing problems that may affect your child’s ability to read for a sustained period of time.
A typical vision screening doesn’t check into how well the eyes work together as a team, how quickly the eyes focus when moving from one visual plane to another, how smoothly the eyes move across the page when reading, how efficiently the brain processes information taken in by the eyes, or a number of other areas of functional vision.
Reading requires the coordination of hundreds of eye muscles and steady oculomotor control. It also requires visualization, visual memory, and other skills for reading comprehension. If your child has an undeveloped vision skill, weakness, or deficiency, this can affect their ability to read.
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.
So, while reading large-print individual words and short sentences for a few minutes in Kindergarten or first grade was easy for your child, reading small-print paragraphs throughout the day can be overwhelming.
Initially, you and your child’s teacher might suspect he is is being careless, distracted, or choosing not to pay attention You might assume he’s skipping unfamiliar or challenging words, because he’s lazy or uninterested.
However, children with learning-related vision problems don’t understand that their vision is to blame. They often grow frustrated, their self-esteem suffers, and they fall behind.
That’s why it’s important that if your child is struggling with reading — particularly if they did not have trouble learning to read initially — that you find a developmental optometrist in your area who specializes in functional vision care. Schedule a comprehensive vision exam right away.
If your child’s reading troubles are related to vision, that’s actually good news. Because once he or she receives a proper diagnosis, a personalized and intensive vision therapy program can lead to significant lasting improvements in a relatively short period of time.
Click here for “10 Things You Need to Know About Vision”
If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr. Philp Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a functional vision exam today.