Skip to main content

Oregon Family Magazine

What If an Attention Problem was Really a Vision Problem?

10/10/2012 16:14 ● By Anonymous
Ted was an eight year old with the curiosity of a scientist; however, he couldn’t sit still when he tried to read. He tilted and turned his head so much that his body tipped until he fell right out of his chair. “We thought it was an attention problem but now we know it was as if he was trying to follow the words, but the words tumbled right off the page,” his father described after Ted’s successful treatment for a hidden vision problem. Ted had “perfect eyesight.” 20/20 vision in each eye, just as previous vision screenings had reported; however, he could not comfortably and accurately maintain good efficient eye teaming.

How is it that someone with clear eyesight might have a reading or a learning problem? 20/20 vision is only one of many vision skills and abilities that must work as a unified accurate and comfortable system for peak performance in academics, sports, and daily life. Simply put, each eye sees the world and we must be able to align the two images easily, accurately, quickly and comfortably for as long as we need to be attending any task.

Ted is like many other students whose behavior looks as if they have attention deficits. But with a hidden vision problem, vision interferes with how well we do instead of supporting our performance. For some children the strain of trying to team their eyes at a close distance, such as with reading, causes dizziness, nausea or headaches. Children learn to avoid reading in order to protect themselves from the discomfort — and the behaviors look like attention deficit (see sidebar.)

Amy used to fight against reading and did her best to avoid sitting down to her home-school studies by wandering around the table – around and around and around. “We were sure she had an attention problem. Now, we know, she really could not pay attention, but it was because she did not know how to team and focus her eyes! Amy’s behavior has completely changed from acting like a 5 year-old to being the 10 year-old she really is,” her mother described. “And, she is now able to read at grade level!”

Allison is a bubbly chatty 7 year-old, bright and eager to share her stories. With a vocabulary far advanced for her years, she delights others with her astute observations about life, relationships, and all the world. However, her reading was labored and far behind her peers. “Once she got her glasses, we thought her vision was fine, but she was still talking up a storm when she should have been reading,” Mom reported to us. “But then someone suggested we find out about how well could she team and move her eyes, especially at the close distance for reading. That’s when we went to an eye doctor who checks for eye teaming. Now she can enjoy reading.” Allison is excited about reading because “the words don’t bounce around anymore! They used to go bounce-bounce- bounce and now they are steady as a rock.”

Ted no longer has daily stomachaches; no longer hates going to the library; no longer falls out of his chair. He described, “The words and letters don’t split up anymore. It was like you took letters and split them in two and shifted them over by one. It was garbled and I couldn’t even read a sentence.”

Children who struggle with learning because of undetected vision problems rarely talk about their eyes or vision. Because we cannot compare how we see to how anyone else sees, children assume that how and what they see — such as blur or words shifting around — is normal and is how everyone sees but “they can do it (such as read or hitting the ball) and I can’t.” Not until we ask the right questions can we understand that a child’s inability to pay attention might be related to visual incompetence, not yet able to focus, move, or team his or her eyes quickly, easily and comfortably all day long for as long as it takes to do the task at hand quickly and easily at the best of one’s ability.

Penelope Youngfeather, MS, COVT has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. She is a Certified Optometric Vision Therapist serving students of all ages and is the Director of the Lifetime Eye Care Vision Therapy Center in Eugene, Oregon. To learn more about Vision and Learning, visit www. Contact Penelope to arrange a presentation on “The Critical Link Between Vision and Learning” for your organization or group.