A Surprising Reason Some Children Struggle in School

Although a bright boy, something was preventing Synara Brown’s son Daniel from learning.

Daniel had always struggled in school. He was the last one in class to learn the alphabet, and reading was extremely difficult. Daniel went to a reading specialist, but made little progress.

“In my heart, I knew something else was going on,” Synara said, so she pushed for more testing. An educational therapist confirmed Daniel did not have dyslexia, which Synara found to be discouraging at first, because she didn't know where to turn next.

Her neighbor suggested Daniel see a developmental optometrist who could test his “functional vision,” and catch vision problems not always detected by a typical vision screening.

Functional vision testing includes checking eye teaming, tracking, depth perception, and focus issues. Tracking, for example, affects how a child follows a line of text in a book, and eye teaming involves how the eyes work together to see an object, which affects depth perception.

Daniel was taken to a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision problems. After testing, it was discovered that despite having 20/20 eyesight, Daniel’s eyes weren’t working together to process what he was seeing.

The Difference Between Sight and Vision

It’s important to distinguish the difference between sight and vision. Sight is the ability of the eyes to see clearly, and is generally measured in most typical eye screenings using a Snellen eye chart. For example, someone who can see clearly may have 20/20 eyesight.

Sight is one of the many visual skills that make up functional vision. Functional vision involves a wide range of additional skills, such as control of eye movements, focusing and eye teaming, which are used to organize what the brain sees.

“It was such a relief to not only find an answer to his learning problem but also a workable solution." Synara said. Daniel began a treatment program that included vision therapy.

Vision therapy helps the patient develop the visual skills necessary for good functional vision. Optical devices and exercises are used to retrain how the person uses their vision in order to make the visual skills that make up functional vision more efficient. Vision therapy can range from one session to 2-3 years and involves office visits combined with at-home activities. Most programs last from 6-9 months.

The results have been dramatic. Daniel has since caught up to the reading level of the rest of his class, his grades have improved, and he even enjoys reading. Along with academic improvements, his overall demeanor has changed as well.

"Looking back, he was pretty frustrated, which led him to not always being pleasant to be around," Synara continued, "Now, he seems so much happier."

Undetected Vision Problems Affect 25% of Students

According to the American Optometric Association, one out of every four students has an undetected vision problem that can affect their ability to learn.

What are typical symptoms of a functional vision problem? As was the case with Daniel, typical symptoms include difficulty with math or reading, poor concentration, and even behavioral problems. Children (and adults!) may experience headaches, watery eyes and even words appearing to move on the page.

The Vision Therapy Center has a vision quiz, which can help parents determine if their child should have a Functional Vision Test. Answering “frequently” or “always” to many of the questions on the quiz would indicate that the child should complete a Functional Vision Test. A developmental optometrist can perform the exam to determine if vision problems exist and discuss treatment options.

Click here to see Synara Brown’s story.

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