Oh, no. The school year has barely started and your child is already bringing home notes from the teacher: Junior isn’t paying attention in class and failing to finish his work. Or maybe you notice Susie’s homework is taking much longer than it should.
Is it a hyperactivity disorder? Or maybe a learning disability?
Maybe, maybe not. Those conditions are worth checking out, but your first stop might be the eye doctor.
Turns out vision problems can have many of the same symptoms as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:
• Doesn’t pay attention in class
• Can’t stay on task with schoolwork and reading
• Makes careless mistakes or misses details
• Fails to finish work
• Often loses things
Some learning problems also are caused by vision problems, including homework taking too long, short attention span with reading and schoolwork and poor reading comprehension. In fact, 60% of children with learning difficulties have an undetected vision problem (so do 70% of juvenile delinquents — another reason to catch vision problems sooner rather than later).
The American Optometric Association recommends a comprehensive eye exam before first grade and annually after that. These exams go beyond the basic vision screenings the school nurse might provide.
But the best way to determine if a vision problem is causing all or some of your child’s behavior or learning symptoms is with a functional vision exam.
Functional vision is the way we use our vision. This exam is different than a standard eyesight test, which typically determines if your child can see clearly at a distance long enough to complete the exam. A functional vision assessment looks at how well the eyes work together, how smoothly they move across a page when reading, and how efficiently the brain processes information, among other things.
Your family optometrist or ophthalmologist may be able to perform a functional vision exam, or you may need to seek out an optometrist trained in developmental vison care.
If your child has a vision problem, it usually can be treated with vision therapy, glasses or both. And it may not be the only cause of the behavior and learning problems you’re seeing. But the first step to determine which symptoms are attributable to each condition is to eliminate the vision problem.