What Appears to be Attention Deficit Disorder Could be a Vision Problem

Have you received a note from school saying your son or daughter is having difficulty paying attention? Did your child’s teacher or counselor recommend testing for attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD)?

Teachers might describe your child as distracted or antsy, report that your child daydreams in class, stares out the window, or looks around the room when he should be focusing on his paper or the board. You may have noticed that your child has a short attention span, trouble reading, and difficulty staying on task or following instructions.

Your pediatrician or a pediatric psychiatrist might have diagnosed your child with attention deficit disorder and prescribed medication, such as Ritalin or Adderall.  No parent wants this diagnosis for their child or to medicate their child unnecessarily. But if a child truly has attention deficit disorder, caring parents want what’s best, so the child can improve, learn, settle down, behave, feel more in control, and get along better with peers. If a child does have ADD/ADHD, proper treatment can work wonders.

However, some children are misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder, when the symptoms they are experiencing are actually related to a vision disorder. Many parents only learn that vision can be at the root of the problem when a child’s behavior and attention does not improve with treatment for attention deficit disorder.

Vision is not usually suspected. Suggestions that a vision problem could be to blame are often initially dismissed; because after all, most children undergo vision screening at school or have an annual exam by their family eye doctor. The child either has “20/20 vision” or he already wears corrective lenses.

However, “20/20 vision” is not enough, as it simply indicates that a patient can see clearly at 20 feet of distance. It does not test how well the child can see close up, how eyes function when they move across a page or from a desk to the board and back again. Screening for 20/20 eye sight also does not assess how well visual processing works, meaning there is no measurement of how well the child is able to remember or make sense of what he sees.

In fact, the eye chart test only catches a small percentage of vision problems. Unfortunately, screening for distance only is outdated and inadequate, considering the tasks and learning activities children need to complete in school.

When a child has a learning-related vision problem and his visual processing skills are weak, he must put forth a tremendous amount of extra effort just to keep his eyes turned correctly, focused, aligned, and recall or process what he is learning. This extra effort can cause fatigue, headaches, and unease.

As a result of experiencing visual difficulties, the child may choose to stare into space, respond to irritability by moving around or choosing an activity that does not cause as much stress on his visual system, or react to his frustration with disruptive behavior. What appears to be daydreaming, distraction, or ‘acting out’ may simply be avoidance or coping behaviors. He does not understand that something is wrong; he is simply adapting to his environment and expectations as best he can.

If your child’s attention or behavioral problem is resulting from a vision deficiency, the good news is a personalized intensive vision therapy program can result in significant and lasting improvement within a relatively short period of time.

To be clear, not all attention problems are related to vision. A child may be dealing with neurological, psychological, nutritional, environmental, auditory processing, or any number of factors. Vision therapy only helps with attention and behavioral problems if a child has a vision problem.

To determine if your child has a vision problem that may be affecting his attention or behavior, he should undergo a functional vision exam and through vision assessment by an optometrist that specializes in functional and developmental vision care.

If you suspect a vision problem, or you want to rule out a vision problem in your child, and you live near Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD, contact us to schedule an appointment with the Visual Learning Center.

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