As a parent, you want to do everything you possibly can to make sure your child has every opportunity you can provide them. It’s a love and connection you can only truly understand when you have children of your own.
Which is why when doctors suggest that your child’s learning struggles are likely being caused by an all-too-common case of ADHD, most parents are willing to begrudgingly put their child on a series of medications in the hopes of making it easier for their kid to learn.
The speed of technological change has made it imperative that children get off to a good start in their education. Competitive entrance exams and waiting lists for preschools are actually a real situation facing young people today. And, surrounded by all sorts of new technology providing large amounts stimulation the rise in children showing signs of an attention deficit impediment seems to make perfect sense.
What The Research Shows
However, the research is starting to show that our earnest and well-intentioned push to find a solution may, in fact, be putting incredible numbers of children on pharmaceuticals that don’t actually need them.
It turns out that in many children, their inability to focus is not being caused by their overactive mind, but quite literally by a lack of focus. Interestingly, the more research that is conducted, the more it seems a lot of the symptoms associated with ADHD are precisely the same as those experienced by someone who has an underdeveloped visual system.
As you can see from the list of symptoms associated with an underdeveloped visual system it’s not always going to be easy to distinguish it from the more commonly diagnosed attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
- Double vision, particularly during or after reading
- Poor handwriting
- Hyperactivity or recklessness during class
- Word and letter reversals
- Easily distracted during reading
- Poor reading comprehension
- Poor overall school performance
- Circumventing of reading
- Blurred vision, especially after reading or working closely
- Eye Strain or frequent headaches
The trouble most often when it comes to separating a diagnosis of ADHD from that of an underdeveloped visual system is usually one of medical professionals not wanting to step outside of their discipline into more nascent areas of research. This situation is compounded when wait times are increasingly long, and Doctors want to do the best they can to assist a child who is clearly struggling. This is not to suggest that Visual Therapy is new but more that recent studies have continued to support what many optometrists have understood through practice for some time now.
The other problem for parents attempting to comprehend a diagnosis of an underdeveloped visual system is that it’s actually, not strictly, an eyesight problem. In many cases, children with vision problems actually have 20/20 eyesight. The impediment is really the ability of the brain to interpret the information being collected by the eyes, frequently referred to as a functional vision problem. So while their eyesight may be in perfect order, their vision is obscured.
Now imagine a young person in a classroom, their visual system is switching from taking notes to looking at the teacher at the front. Their focus is shifting from near to far, but their brain can’t change quickly enough to allow for the information to make sense. After a short while of attempting to keep up fatigue starts to cause further problems. The words on the page seem to jump about in their line, and as it progresses, the text may even begin to appear doubled. It’s not hard to imagine how this leads to frustration and mood swings. Of course, these are just a couple of the symptoms that can manifest with an underdeveloped vision system.
What To Do
When your child is struggling, and you’re looking to determine if it might be a case of vision problems, these are some of the early signs to watch out for.
- Abnormally long time taken when doing homework
- Interpreting letters such as b as d while reading or writing
- Display of poor reading/writing/spelling ability
- Re-reading or skipping of lines when reading
- Short attention spans when doing schoolwork or reading
- Blurriness and headaches
- Displaying frustration with school work
- Abnormal mood swings
Of course, the best option is to consult with your eye doctor to examine first if the child’s eyesight is causing them undue struggle and then to determine if the symptoms are consistent with a completely correctable case of visual underdevelopment.
Considering that one in four students have some form of visual underdevelopment, severe enough to cause them problems at school, it’s worth unpacking this idea a bit further. Four main components make up our overall understanding of functional vision. If you’ve not struggled with it yourself, they almost seem too simple to actually be the source of so much consternation and struggle.
This refers to the ability to guide your eyes across a page evenly and without effort.
The eyes and brain work together to calculate how to adjust the mechanisms of the eye for varying distances. This allows us to maintain an accurate focus throughout any given task, whether near or far, changing from one to the other effortlessly.
This is the ability for the brain to judge objects at the correct distance so the lines of sight from both eyes can intersect at the same place. Essentially, this allows your eyes to seamlessly work together and makes depth perception possible.
Visual Perceptual Skills
This involves understanding what we are looking at, being able to identify it, judge its importance and connect it to previously encoded information in the brain. This problem often presents itself as trouble recognizing words and difficulty deciphering between letters b and d.
Now let’s turn our attention to the treatment and the ways in which we work to remedy an underdeveloped visual system.
The first thing we look at when examining a patient is the involuntary or automatic movements in response to a given stimulus. These basic movements are essential for the development of head control, muscle tone, sensory integration, and overall development. We break this down into both gross motor (infants rolling over, walking, and eventually their handwriting) and ocular motor (controlling the position and movement of the eyes to focus on a visual target), each one affecting the ability of the child to understand and interact with the world around them. We use simple repetitive exercises to very intentionally develop these systems.
The next step is where we teach the eyes to function together effectively. This often involves the use of prism lenses, and colour filtered glasses to help correct the issue. This process is where we train the mind to read, catch a baseball, ride a bike, and do so many other things that require our eyes to move, focus, and coordinate.
Following this, we work on reinforcing the connection between the eyes and the brain, known as visual discrimination. We continue to train the brain to decode the information properly like when looking at the letter b or the letter d. We often use computerized visual activities and non-computerized viewing instruments to help with this. Having this vital connection is how we process things like handwriting and maintain a general sense of spatial awareness. When a child is diagnosed with underdeveloped vision, the issue is not that they can’t read, it’s that the eyes and the brain are not communicating with each other clearly. We work to strengthen that connection.
It’s not hard to understand the difficulty for a child trying to function in a world so dominated by visual cues and where 80% of what we learn, especially early on, is by means of sight. Especially when there is a non-surgical solution available, that’s been shown to have incredible results for so many young people.
Of course, what’s more heartbreaking, is the number of children being misidentified and managed with pharmaceuticals. It’s not the fault of the doctors or the parents, who are genuinely doing what they can to try and help a child in need, but it doesn’t make it any easier for us as professionals to see so many left untreated or misdiagnosed.
At Burlington Optometry, we regularly use Vision Therapy to help patients of all ages with problems related to underdeveloped visual systems. Talk to us to see if Visual Therapy is right for you or your family.
We regularly use Vision Therapy to treat the following conditions:
- Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
- Crossed or turned eye (Strabismus)
- Eye tracking and visualization skills
- Focusing issues resulting in eye fatigue
- Binocular coordination problems, i.e., eye teaming
- Rehabilitation for neurological disorders
- Sports vision improvement