Vision and Learning

C.O.V.D. presents August is Vision & Learning Month

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Each year, the College of Optometrists in Vision Development promotes August as Vision and Learning Month. What’s this all about?

With school starting soon, it’s an excellent time for an eye exam. After all, up to 80% of learning comes through the visual system. The problem parents and their kids run into is that many kids have “20/20” visual acuity (meaning they can read the smallest letters on the eye chart) yet still have vision problems that can get in the way at school.

What type of eye doctor evaluates the 17 visual skills necessary for school success? A Developmental Optometrist specializes in testing and treating all of the visual skills necessary in the classroom. Seeing clearly and having healthy eyes (which is tested by your primary care optometrist or ophthalmologist) are important, but just a starting point.

Classroom tasks and required visual skills downloadable chart

  • Eye teaming problems can cause a person to skip words or lines when reading, or miss small details such as word endings, math signs, etc.
  • Trouble aligning the two eyes when looking at close objects can result in tired eyes, falling asleep reading, reduced reading comprehension, headaches, or just slow reading.
  • The two eyes not teaming well can make depth perception difficult, which can show up as trouble catching or hitting a ball. Poor depth perception can also make driving difficult (moms and dads!), especially making that tricky left turn across traffic lanes.
  • Kids with eye coordination problems can often look like they have ADHD– there’s a big overlap in symptoms. If your eyes hurt when you try to read or do written work, it’s common to be looking out the window instead!
  • Kids with visual processing (visual perception, visual motor integration) difficulties might struggle with reading comprehension; understanding graphs and charts; understanding math concepts– both arithmetic and geometry; or following instructions.
  • See a longer list of vision symptoms that can interfere with school.

Fortunately, nearly all of the visual skills necessary for learning can be developed and improved. Learn more about improvements kids have made here and here.

There’s still time– schedule your child’s back-to-school eye exam today!

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April is National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and there has been a lot of information in the news about the rising rates of autism spectrum disorders. The CDC now estimates that as many as 1 in 68 children are now being diagnosed with ASD. This is particularly frightening as it’s not well understood what  is behind this abrupt rise.

While such research is ongoing, it’s important to consider what we as parents and providers can do right now to improve the quality of life of those with ASD. The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) has issued a press release discussing the impact of vision in ASD:

“While the search to find the exact cause for ASD is ongoing, the visual link to autistic behaviors provides some answers and help to improve quality of life,” states COVD President, Dr. Ida Chung, O.D., FCOVD.

 

There has recently been a lot of research involving the role of vision in autism spectrum and other disorders, which you can read about here and here. There’s also a piece about eye movements in ASD in the Huffington Post.
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In our practice, every day we see children with ASD who exhibit visual processing deficits that interfere with school, play, and social interactions. Fortunately, most of these visual anomalies can be improved through vision therapy.
“Visual processing problems are common in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. They can result in lack of eye contact, staring at objects, or using side vision… Suspect a visual processing problem if you see an autistic child tilt his head and look out of the corner of his eye… a child with poor vision processing may fear the escalator.”– Temple Grandin in The Way I See it: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s
One of the most promising autism therapies available is DIR/Floortime, an approach which influences the style of the vision therapy we offer at the Vision & Conceptual Development Center. In fact, my colleague Dr. Mehrnaz Azimi Green holds an Intermediate Certificate as a DIR/Floortime provider. We first engage the child based on his individual interests, and adapt our therapy techniques based on those interests. We find this tailored approach to be successful with both neurotypical children and those with ASD or other special needs.
We also provide education to other professionals regarding the role of vision in autism spectrum disorders. To keep up-to-date with our speaking schedule, please join our mailing list (we send an e-newsletter about once a month), or visit our Facebook page.
The slides from our most recent lecture, prepared for Parent University, can be accessed here.

Is it a Behavior Problem? Or a Vision Problem?

I recently had a discussion with a parent about behavior and vision problems. A mom of

photo from Newsbusters.org

one of our patients told me that the biggest change she has noticed is that,

“It’s not nuclear war anymore,”

when she tells her daughter it’s homework time. This makes perfect sense to me, and we hear similar stories all the time. If you, as an adult, were asked to do something frustrating,

arduous and painful, on a daily basis, you would eventually refuse. You might even throw a temper tantrum.

Maud at AwfullyChipper wrote to me that

“I really want to make others aware of vision therapy because I know there must be many children out there who’ve just been labelled slow readers (or disruptive, ADD, etc.) when in fact they have vision difficulties. I hope I can help spread the word.”

In fact, studies have been published showing that, indeed, “adverse academic behaviors” decrease following successful treatment for Convergence Insufficiency, one of the more common binocular vision problems we see. The behavior questions used in the study were:

  • How often does your child have difficulty completing assignments at school?
  • How often does your child have difficulty completing homework?
  • How often does your child avoid or say he/she does not want to do tasks that require reading or close work?
  • How often does your child fail to give attention to details or make careless mistakes in schoolwork or homework?
  • How often does your child appear inattentive or easily distracted during reading or close work?
  • How often do you worry about your child’s school performance?
weighted symptom checklist

weighted symptom checklist

It’s important to note that there are other symptoms that may point you to a vision problem. For a more comprehensive list, see our Weighted symptom checklist.

Our Winter Mini-Symposium was a Success!

Last night, February 24, 2011, we hosted a mini-symposium at the new and improved Vision & Conceptual Development Center. We had fifteen people in attendance representing a variety of professional backgrounds.
Our first speaker was Joseph Manley, MD, discussing the American Academy of Pediatrics position statement on Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia and Vision. Dr. Manley’s premise is that the AAP is ignoring peer-reviewed research and evidence-based medicine in their assertion that vision therapy is not an appropriate treatment for children with learning disabilities and dyslexia. Dr. Manley presented numerous sources who found a higher incidence of vision problems in children with dyslexia and learning disabilities.

I was the second speaker, with a talk titled Vision, Behavior, and Academics, in which I explored the documented binocular vision problems in students with inappropriate classroom behavior, and how that impacts the learning of all students.

Finally, our keynote speaker was Jean Thomas, MD. Dr. Thomas is the President of Child & Family Integrated Therapies, LLC, which is a part of Integrated Therapeutic Services for Families and Children, Inc, in Kensington, MD. Formerly on staff at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, Dr. Thomas is recognized nationally and internationally for her contributions to an interdisciplinary effort to develop age-specific mental health diagnostic criteria for children aged birth through three years old. In her talk last night on Early Disruptive Disorders, Dr. Thomas emphasized the importance of the family interactions and dynamics to develop the best outcome for the troubled child.

All in all, the evening was a success, and we look forward to many future educational events for professionals, parents, and patients. To sign up for our mailing list, please click here.