dyslexia or vision problem

Is it Dyslexia or a Visual Processing Problem?

When you notice your child reversing letters or words, your initial suspicion might be that your child has dyslexia. The truth is, reversing letters is common when children are first learning to read and write. If you notice letter reversals in Kindergarten or first grade, there is no reason to be concerned, because reversing letters, confusing left with right, and mixing up words are normal behaviors in the learning and development process. If a child continues to reverse letters and struggle with reading in second grade and beyond, it is time to start paying closer attention to other signs and symptoms.

If you suspect dyslexia, have your child evaluated by a reading specialist and your family doctor, who may refer you to a cognitive psychologist or another professional for testing. There is not one simple test to diagnose dyslexia, but instead a series of comprehensive evaluations and the systematic elimination of other problems.

Visual processing skills deficiencies and oculomotor disorders are sometimes overlooked, because awareness about how closely their symptoms overlap with dyslexia is not as widespread as it should be.

Determining whether your child has dyslexia or a vision problem is critical for your child’s well-being. Dyslexia cannot be cured, though many learn to cope with it well and succeed; however, learning-related vision deficiencies that have symptoms similar to dyslexia can be treated and even eliminated by developing skills through an individualized intensive vision therapy program.

Only an optometrist trained in developmental vision care can diagnose a learning-related vision problem through a comprehensive functional vision exam.

In both dyslexia and learning-related visual processing problems, children:

  • May confuse left with right, while dyslexics might also be ambidextrous and just as often confuse over with under.
  • Have difficulty with writing and messy handwriting; dyslexics may also grip their pencil in an unusual way and tend to have illegible writing.
  • Have problems with depth perception and peripheral vision; but dyslexics are also known to have keen and observant vision skills.
  • Tend to have trouble reading with little comprehension.
  • Transpose, omit, substitute, and reverse words and letters when reading and writing.
  • Have difficulty staying on task, paying attention, zoning out, and daydreaming.
  • Complain of dizziness, clumsiness, nausea, and headaches while reading, playing sports, or while doing fine-motor visual tasks.
  • Seem bright, articulate, and may have a high IQ, but they are unable to read, write, spell, or perform on standardized tests on grade level; those with vision problems will have trouble with other visual tasks that do not involve words or numbers.
  • Tend to be called lazy, careless, or labeled with behavioral problems. Struggle with low self-esteem get emotional about testing and school; dyslexics are known to cope by covering their weaknesses and compensating or distracting with other talents and skills.
  • Learn well through hands-on experiences; dyslexics tend to be helped by being able to observe and use visual aids, but those with visual deficiencies do better with oral coaching.
  • Have difficulty with time — Dyslexics have trouble with sequences and time management; those with vision problems have trouble telling time on a clock dial.

As you can see, the signs and symptoms of dyslexia and learning-related vision problems practically mimic each other, with subtle differences. Even a professional trained to recognize dyslexia may not suspect a vision deficiency without proper awareness.

If you are in the Olney, MD or Silver Spring, MD area and suspect your child might have a learning-related vision problem that has similar symptoms to dyslexia, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment.

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