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Vision Problems Can Look Like Learning Difficulties

Child with hand on forehead in visible frustration reading a book on a desk

When children continue to struggle with reading and learning despite all best efforts to help them, it can be very difficult to figure out the source of the problem. When a vision problem is at the root of a child’s struggles with learning, it is often very hidden.

The types of vision problems which interfere with reading and learning impact how the eyes move and how they work together, so a child can pass a vision screening that tests for distance vision very easily because they can see the letters on the eye chart. As a result, vision can often be incorrectly ruled out even though eye movement and eye coordination disorders could be interfering with reading and learning.

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness month, which makes this a good time to review how eye coordination and eye movement disorders can interfere with a student’s ability to read and learn.

What’s eye coordination? How well the two eyes work together in unison to provide a single clear image at all times. Eye movement is how well the eyes move – which is required when you read or drive. How well can you follow a moving target and can you follow along a line of print when reading without getting lost.

Research from Harvard Medical School actually found that approximately 80% of children who have Dyslexia, often have eye coordination and eye movement disorders contributing to their challenges. And 30% of kids (without Dyslexia) who struggle with reading also have these visual disorders.

“When a vision problem is at the root of a child’s struggles with learning, it is often very hidden.”

It is important to understand that while our eyes take in visual information, that information is sent to the brain where it is processed. If the information that is sent to the brain is faulty, it can make learning very difficult. While learning disability websites list a variety of accommodations that can help children with Visual Information Processing Disorders, it is important for parents to understand that correctable vision problems are often playing a role in learning challenges and can contribute to Visual Information Processing Disorders.

Many individuals with learning disabilities also have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). One of the signs that a vision problem may be contributing to one’s learning challenges is a short attention span when it comes to reading and near work. This behaviour could easily be mistaken for ADHD.

Eye tracking and eye coordination disorders which can make reading difficult and cause symptoms such as eye strain, double vision, loss of concentration, poor reading comprehension and frequent loss of place when reading and working up close, all which play a negative role in learning.

For children who are performing well in school, a yearly eye exam is important. However, if your child struggles with reading, is smart in everything but school or is a bright underachiever, you need to make sure your child has all the visual skills required for academic success. To do this you need an in-depth binocular vision evaluation by a Developmental Optometrist. To find one near you visit:

Dr. Matthew Anderson, Developmental Optometrist, provides vision care for the entire family and also provides specialized services in the diagnosis and treatment of vision problems that interfere with reading and learning. Dr. Anderson is a popular speaker with parents and professional groups and may be reached at (204) 633-5566. For more information visit his website:

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