Every August, many parents start to get complaints from their children about the impending return to school. In some circumstances, children are anxious about starting at a new school, or being placed in a class without their friends. Most of the time, children accept that the fun and games that come along with summer vacation are coming to an end. But for many children, the beginning of school is a tough time due the fact that they struggle academically. And for a subgroup of these children, visual disturbances are the source of some of their challenges.
There are many visual difficulties that children can suffer from even when their eyes are completely healthy. If you find your child is avoiding reading books, using a finger while reading, seeing double or going cross-eyed, having troubles with letter reversals or attention difficulties – they may actually be suffering from visual system disorders.
A large number of children who have difficulty reading or with attention in school actually have underlying visual system disorders. It is not uncommon for children to have ’20/20’ vision, demonstrating that they can see the small letters from far away, while also having other visual impediments. There are a number of other visual skills that are crucial for reading, and deficits in those areas may not be picked up during a routine eye exam.
When children are lacking the ability to properly utilize their visual system to its potential, school can truly become an onerous, exhausting, and stressful daily activity. Skills such as eye teaming (how the two eyes work together), eye tracking (how the eyes correctly follow a line of print) and visual-motor integration (hand-eye coordination) may be what is holding your child back from success at school. These issues are due to how the eyes and brain work together and how the brain processes information from the eyes. It is not due to intelligence. Many children I’ve seen in practice can pass a routine eye checkup because their eyes work normally during the short period of time during an eye examination. But the eyes behave differently at school when they are needed to see long distances (the whiteboard), up close (reading books) and are working very hard to process new visual information that they are being taught.
I often tell my patients that “sometimes your eyes and your brain don’t always know how to talk to each other. It has nothing to do with how smart you are, but it can make reading and school work much more difficult than it needs to be”. If your child is being evaluated for a Learning Disability they should also have their eyes checked. Studies have found that many of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and Learning Disabilities overlap with visual system disorders.
As the summer winds down and your routine starts to change from late nights and fun days into school mode, make sure to have your children’s eyes checked. An eye exam can easily help rule out visual system disorders and ensure your child has a successful year at school.