So you teach your child a word, then three lines later they can’t recognize the word you just taught them. Is it a language problem, learning disability, or just not being focused?
When you child’s eyes and brain don’t work together, it’s like playing a really bad game of ‘telephone’. They won’t be able to make sense of the words they see. For example, if their eyes don’t track accurately, the next time they see a word, it may look like an entirely different word. If the two eyes don’t always work together, each eye may be taking in a different part of the word at the same time without realizing it.
Before the information can get to the brain for phonics/language to come into play, it requires accurate vision.
There are several key areas of visual function to test if a child is struggling with reading or being tested for a learning disability.
- Eye Tracking:
If the eyes cannot accurately move through the text, your son or daughter will mix up the order of the letters or words they are seeing. It may reduce their reading fluency, cause poor reading comprehension, or cause trouble with sight words. Research has shown significant improvements in reading ability when eye tracking problems are treated.
- Eye Teaming (binocularity):
If the eyes don’t always work together, it means that the brain may be getting conflicting information. This can also cause many of the same signs of ADD or ADHD as it makes it really hard to keep focus on work. Studies have shown significant improvements in focus and academic behavior if eye teaming (vergence) was part of the problem.
- Visual Processing
This is often referred to as visual perceptual skills. It has to do with how the brain is making sense of visual information. Sometimes it can be done as very extensive and time consuming testing, but often there are more efficient ways to figure out if there are problems.
How to tell if your child may be affected?
The most obvious symptoms of vision interfering with learning is when a child does much better when given the information verbally rather than on the page. This bypasses their visual process, so it makes sense that vision is likely part of the problem. Other common signs are skipping lines and losing their place, reading with a finger, not recognizing words just learned, uneven spaces in writing, letter reversals past age 7 and trouble copying from the board. They won’t always have all of these challenges, so if they have one or two, it’s worth being assessed.
Even if your child has a diagnosed learning disability, they may also have vision problems that have not yet been diagnosed. Most learning disability testing currently does not rule out problems with vision. So this may mean that their difficulties could be either fully, or in part due to a treatable vision problem.
If your child is struggling, it’s important to rule out vision as a cause. See your local neuro-optometrist for testing.