Thursday, August 8, 2013

When vision problems contribute to learning difficulties


Most parents find out their children have vision problems after trying a variety of interventions and searching for help for years. In many cases parents have already spent thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars trying to help their children with learning by the time they find out that a vision problem is contributing to their difficulties.

“It is our goal to help parents understand that vision problems can interfere with academic success, and they are typically very treatable,” shares Dr. David Damari, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, “The most important step is identification.”
“Vision problems are noticeable in the early years of school. It's much better to be able to notice and treat them in first and second grade. The longer you wait, the more difficult it's going to be to deal with the other factors that have developed,” shares Bob Sornson, PhD and author of Fanatically Formative (Corwin Press), Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach and Students Love to Learn (Love and Logic Press), and the Essential Skill Inventories, K–3 (Early Learning Foundation).

“When you take a child who has really struggled to read because of visual issues, the longer that goes on you're no longer dealing with just a vision issue; now you have an attitude problem, a behavior problem, and avoidance issues,” states Sornson.

Sornson’s implementation of programs and strategies for early learning success, the Early Learning Success Initiative, serves as a model for school districts around the country. The Early Learning Success model emphasizes formative and systematic assessment of all essential aspects of early learning development, support for students and teachers, and the importance of building positive classroom culture.

More than 20 years ago Sornson looked very carefully into the research on optometric vision therapy, “to understand what that process was and what was possible. The evidence was just too powerful and overwhelming. The importance of sensory motor development is not new. It’s been recognized for thousands of years as an important part of learning and development, and it's supported by everything we know about brain science in the last few decades. Vision is one important piece of this whole sensory motor, sensory neural sequence that we need to pay attention to.”
While nay-sayers keep demanding more research, Sornson responds, “We're long past arguing about this. It's the responsibility of every educator to understand that sensory motor and vision development impact young learners.”


Dr. Dominick Maino, Professor of Pediatrics and Binocular Vision at the Illinois College of Optometry/Illinois Eye Institute and Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, notes that learning related vision problems can result in behaviors that mimic attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cause headaches, eyestrain and other symptoms that interfere with the learning process. “Optometric vision therapy has been shown by National Institute of Health National Eye Institute sponsored clinical trials to improve binocular vision problems and to eliminate symptoms that could impact learning” he said, and that “Research conducted over decades has also shown that there is a link between vision and academic performance despite what some may say. This link not only includes reading ability but math performance as well.”

The results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Reading Test show that by 4th grade, 67% of school-age children in the U.S. are not reading at proficient levels. Sornson explains, “Vision is one of the crucial early learning issues. It's not the only issue but it's one of the issues. Just the cost savings which come from dealing with vision issues as a part of the early learning process should be enough reason for schools to learn more about this. By the beginning of fourth grade in the U.S., two-thirds of our students are non-proficient readers and are predictably unlikely to become successful lifelong learners. This is an unnecessary tragedy for our nation and for most of these children.”


“There is a long standing body of evidence that shows certain sensory and visual systems have to be well developed before children are going to be truly effective learners,” continues Sornson, “There's a strong body of evidence that shows that vision therapy is successful at treating vision problems that interfere with reading and academic success, and it’s time to quit arguing about what is now scientifically obvious and help these children.”

Why do vision problems typically go undetected for so long? “Most eye care practitioners, school nurses and pediatricians use visual acuity (how clearly one can see letters on the eye chart from a distance of 20 feet) as the benchmark for good vision.” Damari explains, “When in fact seeing clearly is just one of more than 17 visual skills required for academic success.”

If your child struggles with reading, has attention problems, takes longer than it should to get homework done or has difficulty comprehending what was read, a vision problem may be contributing to his or her difficulties. For an in-depth checklist visit our Parent Resource Center.

Optometrists who offer in-office programs of optometric vision therapy can provide the diagnostic testing necessary to determine if a child has a vision problem contributing to their difficulties with reading and learning. To find a doctor who provides this service, visit covd.org.

CONTACT: Pamela R. Happ, CAE
COVD Executive Director
888.268.3770 tel
Email: phapp@covd.org
Website: www.covd.org

About COVD
The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) is an international, non-profit optometric membership organization that provides education, evaluation, and board certification programs in behavioral and developmental vision care, vision therapy, and visual rehabilitation. The organization is comprised of doctors of optometry, vision therapists and other vision specialists. For more information on learning-related vision problems, vision therapy and COVD, please visit www.covd.org or call 888.268.3770.

A series of public service announcements (PSAs) are available at covd.org to help raise awareness that vision problems can not only interfere with learning, but sports performance, and other activities of daily living. These PSAs also address vision problems that impact individuals who have autism spectrum disorders or those who have suffered a head injury.

About Bob Sornson, Ph.D.
Bob Sornson, Ph.D., was a classroom teacher and school administrator for over 30 years and is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation. Sornson is the author of numerous articles and books, including Fanatically Formative: Successful Learning during the Crucial K-3 Years, Stand in My Shoes: Teaching Kids about Empathy, The Juice Box Bully, and Creating Classrooms Where Teachers Love to Teach and Students Love to Learn.


Dr. Sornson is available for interviews regarding the role vision plays in early learning; please contact phapp@covd.org.


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