Vision Problems Can Affect Your Child’s Reading Skillls

Vision Problems Can Affect Your Child’s Reading Skills

By Dr. Dennis R. Cantwell, Optometrist

“The fact is, it is difficult for children and even the most attentive parents to recognize the signs of a vision problem.”

As we approach the end of the school year, I know many of you are hanging in there, waiting to take a break from battling with your kids about schoolwork.  If you have a child who has been struggling with reading and learning I would like to share some exciting news with you.

Recent research published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, revealed that sixth graders with below-average reading skills improved their test scores by up to two grade levels after vision therapy.  According to Harold Solan, OD, the principle researcher, “This research is critical for helping children overcome reading disabilities and other related learning problems.  It shows that visual attention skills necessary to succeed in school can be developed through programs of vision therapy and can lead to improvements in reading and learning.”  

Having worked with children who have had problems with reading, it is always exciting to see research that confirms what I have experienced with my patients for years.   It is not uncommon for parents and educators to assume that vision has nothing to do with their child’s difficulties because they have passed vision screenings, or they have been told their child sees 20/20.  

The numbers 20/20 come from an eye chart that was developed in the 1800’s when man’s biggest concern was hunting for his dinner.  All it means is that you can see a certain size letter from 20 feet.  And, it is only one of over 15 visual skills critical to reading and learning.

If your child struggles with reading, please ask yourself the following questions.  Does your child:

Omit or substitute small words (like “of” for “for”, or “if” for “of,” etc.)?

Get frustrated trying to read or do homework?

Have trouble keeping attention on reading or homework?

Do well in physical activities but have trouble reading?

Take much longer doing his/her homework than it should?

Have trouble making out words?

Have trouble keeping his/her place when reading?

Slow when copying or make lots of errors?

Often squint or rub his/her eyes while trying to read?

Complain of headaches during or after reading?

Often mis-pronounce or misunderstand words?

Skip words or repeat lines when reading out loud to you?

Have dizziness, nausea or other physical symptoms after reading?

If your child has any of the above symptoms, it is a sign that a vision problem may be contributing to his or her difficulties

Aside from having difficulty with reading, what else do these 4 children have in common?

    Sammy was a very slow reader.  Despite working with a tutor for over a year (going twice a week) he still continued to struggle.  

    Even though Eric was bright his test scores didn’t show it.  He struggled with math and reading.  

    Jenny was very bright but struggled with reading.  She would skip words and had difficulty understanding what she read.  The bottom line – she hated reading.  But she seemed to do better when she was read to.

    Aaron was insecure and moody.  Other children in his private school classes teased him because he could not read or write.  Although he scored at the gifted level on IQ tests, he’d say, “I’m too stupid” or “I can’t do it” when asked to do reading, writing, or arithmetic.  He even had problems sleeping due to nightmares and night terrors.  

Each of these children struggled with undiagnosed vision problems (even though they passed the vision screening) and each of these children are now excelling because the vision problems were fixed.

Parents are often surprised that their children never complained that they were having trouble seeing.  Former President Jimmy Carter was amazed to find out that his grandchildren had been struggling with undetected vision problems for years and has made it his personal mission to help spread the word.  In a public service announcement that you can see at he states, “The fact is, it is difficult for children and even the most attentive parents to recognize the signs of a vision problem.”    

The only way to be sure if a vision problem is interfering with your child’s academic success is to schedule a developmental vision evaluation.  Not all eye care specialists practice the developmental approach to vision care, parents should ask the following questions:

1.    Do you test for ALL of the visual abilities listed above?

2.    Do you provide vision therapy in your office or will you refer me to a colleague who does?

    Research has shown that 80% of all learning in a youngster’s first 12 years is through vision.  Make sure your child has ALL the visual skills critical to learning and schedule a Developmental Vision Evaluation today.  To find a developmental optometrist go to or or call the College of Optometrists in Vision Development at (888) 268-3770.

Dr. Dennis R. Cantwell is a developmental optometrist with over 25 years experience helping children with learning-related vision problems.  He has practices in Annandale and Ashburn, Virginia.


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