Look around at children in schools and you’ll find lots of children struggling with reading and learning. Many of these children are bright yet reading is a challenge for them. Others have been diagnosed as having ADHD or a learning disorder. In many cases they’re prescribed psychotropic drugs like Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall if they are to even be allowed in school.

But now an ever expanding group of doctors and health practitioners are showing that the real culprit may be their eyes and that these problems can be treated through the use of vision therapy.

The College of Optometrists in Vision Development is holding their annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona on October 24-28, 2006. They are seeking to raise awareness natiowide of the critical link between vision and learning and the solution –developmental vision examinations and vision therapy.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment is the key to preventing serious health and developmental problems, but most sufferers don’t even know they have problems.

Among the top practitioners speaking at the meeting are Dr. Brock Eide and his wife Dr. Fernette Eide, authors of the newly published book The Mislabeled Child.

The Eides say that typical eye examinations won’t reveal vision problems interfering with a child’s ability to read and learn. Tests can show that even a child who has 20/20 visual acuity can have problems with tracking, focusing, or seeing double.

Sight is not the same as vision. Eyesight is the physical process of focusing light within your eyes. Vision is the ability to understand what you see. There are over 20 visual skills critical to reading and learning in addition to being able to see the letters on the eye chart (visual acuity).

Proper testing is crucial to finding out what the problem really is. When vision is the culprit, the solution is often vision therapy.

Dr. Eide said:

“The first step is to get a proper suite of specialized vision tests to get a proper diagnosis of what is wrong. The second step is a carefully designed program of vision therapy.” “Vision therapy helps restore proper eye functioning and can have a dramatic improvement on reading ability and skills. Children with eye problems will often times learn to effectively process visual information properly for the first time in their life. This can have a significant effect on school performance, self-esteem, and personal confidence.” Parents and educators need to know the signs to watch for. Does your child or student: *Frequently lose place when reading?

*Confuse similar looking words?

*Have poor reading comprehension?

*Fail to recognize the same word in the next sentence?

*Complain of eyes hurting or headaches after reading?

*Avoid close work (such as reading)?

*Have problems with attention when it comes to schoolwork? If you answered yes to any of the above, then a correctable vision problem may be at the root of the child’s struggles.

Lindsey Biel is a highly skilled occupational therapist who specializes in pediatrics and is author of the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Ms. Biel said:

“A child learns about the world through his senses, with all of the sounds, sights, touches, movement, tastes and smells integrating seamlessly to provide an accurate picture of the world. These are not separate sensory “channels.” Rather, all of this sensory input works together within the central nervous system. For most children, sensory integration (SI) skills develop automatically. However, children with impaired SI skills experience the world differently, and this can significantly interfere with their ability to play, learn, and develop.”

In fact, Ms. Biel goes on to say, “It’s no surprise that visual-perceptual delays are common in children with SI dysfunction&Keep in mind that vision skills are closely allied with motor skills.”

Ms. Biel offers some additional signs parents and educators can watch for that can be used to help identify a child that is struggling with a vision problem: poor handwriting and drawing skills, or if a child seems disinterested in, or overly distracted by, objects in the environment.

Both Drs. Eides and Ms. Biel say it is important for parents and educators to know that children with vision problems usually don’t tell anyone that they have a problem. They don’t realize that they are supposed to see letters, numbers, words, objects, or the world in a different way.

Poor visual abilities are often the reason that completing assigned tasks takes so long or is so difficult. Vision therapy can also be offered to adults, who have vision problems but have never received proper therapy; even for those who have strabismus.

Dr. Susan Barry, associate professor of biology at Mount Holyoke College, is a perfect example of this; her personal story was the subject of a recent New Yorker article by Oliver Sacks and an NPR Morning Edition story by Robert Krulwich. Barry went through three eye muscle surgeries as a child. Although she was told nothing more could be done for her, she gained stable, clear binocular vision through vision therapy when she was close to her 50th birthday.

Since her story went public, Dr. Barry has received 120 e-mails from people around the world who, like her, received only eye muscle surgery as a young child but never the benefit of vision therapy. Her story supports recent work by neuroscientists on the ability of the adult brain and visual system to change and improve, such as can occur with vision therapy.

“It’s never too late to get help,” says Dr. Barry. For more information visit www.covd.org

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