vision therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Can vision therapy treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Many children who have displayed symptoms of attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) have experienced relief or improvement from those symptoms by undergoing an intensive and comprehensive vision therapy or vision training program.

However, that does not mean vision therapy treats or cures attention deficit disorders. It means that ADD/ADHD is often misdiagnosed, and many of the symptoms of visual processing problems or vision disorders mimic the signs and symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

Click here to watch a video on how an undiagnosed vision problem could be interfering with your child’s ability to learn or stay on task.

A pediatric psychiatrist or pediatrician may have suggested a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and prescribed Adderall, Ritalin, or another medication. As a parent, if your child does have ADD/ADHD, you want to ensure he or she gets the best treatment possible to feel better and learn effectively. However, you also don’t want your child to be labeled incorrectly or medicated unnecessarily.

So it is important for you to be aware of signs that could indicate a vision problem but are often misattributed to attention or behavioral problems, including:

  • Daydreaming, appearing distracted, or staring off into space
  • Looking away from the paper or assignment often
  • Seeming to have a short attention span or quick loss of interest
  • Antsiness or fidgeting
  • Getting up from seat at inappropriate times
  • Disruptive behavior or “acting out”
  • Talking during instruction time or distracting other students
  • Losing place while reading, skipping words or lines, seemingly due to carelessness
  • Forgetting material just learned
  • Difficulty staying on task or focused
  • Starting but not completing tasks
  • Scoring better on the beginning of tests and progressively worse towards the end, seemingly due to distractedness or loss of interest
  • Social awkwardness, missing social cues about politeness and personal space, and resulting trouble getting along with peers

Each of these symptoms could indicate ADD/ADHD, but they could also point to a vision problem.

Most educators or parents never suspect vision, usually because typical vision screenings and exams only test for clear eyesight at a distance, not other problems. You may only suspect something else might be at the root of the behavior when a child does not improve with treatment for attention deficit disorder.

But what does vision have to do with attention and behavior?

If children are dealing with problems such as oculomotor dysfunction, amblyopia, visual processing disorders, convergence insufficiency, or other functional vision problems, these signs could be either direct indications or coping and avoidance behaviors.

When a student has a learning-related vision problem or weak visual processing skills, the extra effort required to keep his eyes focused, aligned, turned correctly, and visually process what he is learning is especially taxing. Tasks that are easy and come naturally for peers can cause fatigue, headaches, and frustration.

Because of the strain of functional vision problems, students may choose to rest their eyes by looking away from their paper frequently or staring into space. Because they become agitated, they may fidget or move around, preferring activities that do not require as much stress on the visual system. And because they are often unaware that the way their vision system functions is different from others’ and because they can’t articulate that they are experiencing problems, they tend to “act out” with disruptive behavior or distract fellow classmates.

Often, the child does not know that something is wrong; he is simply adapting to his environment and expectations as best he can.

Click here to download our free guide on 10 things you should know about vision.

The good news is, if a child does have a vision problem, rather than ADD/ADHD, vision therapy can help. As our vision therapy success stories illustrate, a personalized intensive vision therapy program can result in significant and lasting improvement within a relatively short period of time.

We want to emphasize that not all attention problems are related to vision. Your child may be experiencing problems that are psychological, neurological, environmental, nutritional, related to auditory processing, or any number of factors. Vision therapy only helps with attention and behavioral problems if a child has a learning-related or functional vision problem.

We encourage you to watch this video about learning-related vision problems to learn more.

If you suspect your child has a vision problem that may be affecting his or her learning, attention, or behavior, schedule a comprehensive vision exam with a developmental optometrist today.

For a functional vision exam and vision therapy in Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment today.


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