Eyes: Windows to the Soul and a Key to Learning Issues
May 24, 2011 01:28PM
By Dr. Randy Schulman
Do you (or someone you know) have reading and learning difficulties, an attention deficit disorder, or just can’t focus? It may be your eyes that hold the key.
David Carpenter’s son, Josh, had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), so when he struggled in school it never occurred to them that his eyes might be part of the problem. However, they came to learn that, despite 20/20 visual acuity or eyesight, Josh suffered from an eye muscle coordination problem called Convergence Insufficiency (CI). Individuals with this disorder find reading, writing and other close-range tasks challenging and frustrating and may try to avoid them. At times they can be incorrectly labeled or diagnosed, often identified as “learning disabled” or “attention deficit.” In reality, poor convergence can impair reading and, ultimately, learning.
Some skills necessary for reading and comprehension include eye tracking, focusing and visualization. Because CI may be missed in basic eye exams or screening with a 20/20 vision chart, it has often gone undetected in school and pediatric screenings, which tend not to assess these skills. Nor does every eye care professional look at all of these visual competencies. Most assess the acuity or eyesight, the physical health of the eyes and whether or not patients are nearsighted, farsighted or astigmatic. Behavioral optometrists are trained to assess all of that, as well as functional vision, or how you process visual information. These doctors look at focusing, eye teaming (ability to aim the eyes together in order to avoid such concerns as seeing double), eye movements (tracking), eye-hand coordination and visual processing, or how you use vision for recall, memory and spatial relations. Such a fully comprehensive evaluation can also help determine if your ability to handle the demands of school, work, or even sports might be affected.
If the doctor finds a vision problem, such as CI or another potential issue, they can prescribe special glasses that help develop visual proficiency, prevent problems, and alleviate eye stress while reading or at the computer. They may also recommend vision therapy. Vision therapy consists of a program of activities that develop visual abilities (such as the aforementioned tracking, focusing, teaming, eye-hand coordination and visual memory) and treat problems that lead to computer eyestrain, reading and learning difficulties, poor athletic performance and difficulty staying focused. It can help alleviate symptoms and improve patient’s self-esteem when they realize their problems are due to a treatable vision issue. The therapy offers new perspective, allowing for a more comprehensive and efficient mode of seeing.
A well-known National Eye Institute (NEI)-funded study known as the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial (CITT), found that nearly 75 percent of those who received in-office vision therapy by a trained professional, plus at-home treatment, reported fewer and less severe symptoms related to reading and other “near” work.
David Carpenter had noticed that he was falling asleep while reading and recalled that he never really enjoyed this activity, even as a child. Since Josh’s vision therapy was so successful, David decided to have his own eye examination. It turns out he was also suffering from CI. He has since undergone vision therapy and asserts that it has changed his life, stating “vision therapy has taught me how to distinguish between seeing clearly and seeing completely.”
To find an eye care professional who will perform a thorough visual skills evaluation and can treat learning-related and reading difficulties, go to oep.org or covd.org. Dr. Shulman can be reached at Vision Works, 139 Main Street in Norwalk, CT, 203.840.1991, vtotworks.com, or Total Learning and Therapy Center, 5893 Main Street in Trumbull, CT, 203.268.8852, tltc.org.