Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit

Just the other day a family from Nanaimo, concerned about their child, was asking about how common vision conditions are in children with learning disabilities.  A recent paper by doctors Quaid and Simpson cites that up to 80% of struggling readers are lacking one or more visual skills that are essential for reading (Read the literature summary here).  These are vision skills that are not tested for or detected during most vision exams or psycho-educational assessments.  These are a few of the areas of vision most important for learning.  Many vision conditions can be mistaken for dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder and more.  The TEDx talk here explains much of it.


  1. Eye tracking-  If the eyes are not able to accurately track through a page, reading will always be compromised.  If the eye movement isn’t accurate, often the eyes will jump to a place other than where the child thought they were moving their eyes, too far ahead, to the wrong line, etc.  Often the eyes may hit the end of the word and then jump back to the beginning of the word, resulting in things like ‘on’ instead of ‘no’.  Or, if there is no tracking consistency, many children will have trouble recognizing a word that they just learned.  To them, the next time that they see the word it doesn’t even look like the same word.  It can look like a problem with sight words, when really it’s because they can’t see the word consistently.  In some cases, poor eye tracking can also cause problems in math as numbers are often put in the wrong places and it’s very hard to follow along with the lesson. (see the tracking video)
  2. Binocularity/Eye teaming- If the eyes do not work together properly, reading and trying to pay attention becomes really inefficient.  Many of these problems look just like attention deficit disorder or ADD.  After all, if it’s more difficult to keep your focus on your work, you won’t be able to sustain your attention.  Just like if you had to run with a weighted vest on, you couldn’t run as far.  In some cases when a child is learning to read, this can also lead to each eye seeing a different part of the word at the same time, which causes confusion for the brain as to what is being seen.  Then it becomes near impossible for a child to learn to recognize words and read.
  3. Visual-motor- The very basis for motor coordination is accurate coordinates.  Learning to write, and or copy things off of the board requires not only accurate eye movement, but also for the brain to be processing visual coordinates accurately so that it can direct the motor coordination.  Many children who cannot write on a line, or have bad spacing or random writing size struggle with visual-motor deficits.  This is often mistaken for or contributes to dysgraphia.

The most important part is to ensure that the visual system is fully tested as part of helping a child who is having trouble with learning.  A school vision screening will only look at clarity, and optometry or paediatric ophthalmology exams don’t check all of these areas.  It’s important to work with an optometrist who tests all of the eye tracking, teaming, visual motor and more.

If you’re in Nanaimo, Courtenay/Comox or on Vancouver Island and are concerned about your child’s difficulty with reading, writing or attention, make sure to have the full set of visual skills assessed.  So much of the time there is an underlying visual condition which can be treated, rather than just providing accommodations.


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