"You just aren't trying hard enough" is the criticism uttered by generations of parents to their seemingly bright children who have trouble reading, with schoolwork or playing sports. But effort or attitude may not be the cause of poor performance. In some cases, an undiagnosed vision problem with no other obvious symptoms is to blame.
According to the California Optometric Association, these conditions can range from those that respond to vision therapy or corrective lenses, to those that are indicative of a serious medical condition.Â
The nationally syndicated column "Dear Abby" ran a heartfelt letter from a mother written with the hope that other parents would learn from her story. Her daughter, an obviously bright fifth-grader, struggled in school and was reading only at a first-grade level. Testing for learning disabilities by a respected university hospital failed to find a cause, which reinforced the child's frustration and her belief that she was "dumb."
Â While doing her own research, the mother came across a condition that seemed to fit, called convergence insufficiency disorder; it is a problem where the eyes drift inward or outward in their attempt to focus.
This disorder causes the words to seemingly "jump" or "float" across the page, making reading almost impossibly difficult. A visit to the optometrist for a comprehensive vision examination could have saved both mother and daughter time and worry.
The good news is most vision problems detected at a young age are correctable. Only six months after the initial diagnosis and with vision therapy from an optometrist, the girl was reading at almost age-appropriate level. Her comprehension and retention markedly increased, as did her self-esteem and attitude.
Sometimes a seemingly trivial problem indicates a serious medical condition. A 12-year-old boy in San Jose recently complained about his inability to hit tennis balls. After a comprehensive vision exam, his optometrist referred him to a neurologist who diagnosed and treated the detected brain cyst.Â
According to the California Optometric Association, impaired vision can seriously interfere with a child's ability to learn and perform in school and sports; it is estimated that 80 percent of all learning during a child's first 12 years is obtained through vision. Since undetected vision problems are present in 60 percent of students identified as problem learners, parents are urged to take their children to an optometrist, before they return to school, for a comprehensive vision exam.Â
"While standard school vision screenings are greatly beneficial, they only detect gross visual problems that identify an immediate need for further examination," says Dr. Hilary Hawthorne, an optometrist practicing in South Central Los Angeles, and a spokes doctor for the California Optometric Association. "Unfortunately, only a small percentage of school-aged children in California are currently receiving the comprehensive optometric eye examinations that are crucial in helping to maximize their ability to learn and perform in school and sports."Â
Since children's eyes and visual skills change as they grow, they need complete vision exams annually. Some states are passing legislation to mandate vision exams for children entering kindergarten; however, California has not yet done so. Parents in our state must be proactive in understanding the importance of comprehensive optometric exams and scheduling appointments to insure their children's eye health.
Some visual disorders common in school-aged children are:
Â¥Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) - the lack of development of one eye, which can result in the eyes not working together. It usually develops before the age of six and symptoms can include clumsiness, poor hand-eye coordination, tilting or turning the head to favor one side, or covering one eye while reading.Â Early detection is important for complete recovery.
Â¥ Hyperopia (Farsightedness) - occurs when distant objects are seen clearly, but close ones are out of focus. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue while reading and a lack of interest in school or schoolwork.
School vision screenings, which only evaluate distance using an eye chart, will usually not detect this vision problem.Â Â
Â¥ Tracking (Eye Teaming) problems - results when the eyes are not working as a team, making it difficult to track words across a page and can lead to avoidance of reading, eyestrain, poor performance in academics and sports. Often the child's reading level is significantly lower than his/her overall intelligence.
To find an optometrist in your area, log on to www.eyehelp.org and click on the find an eye doc link.
All optometrists participating in this locator service are California Optometric Association members who adhere to the highest ethical standards and provide the most thorough care.
The California Optometric Association, founded in 1899, is California's oldest recognized community for optometrists.
It represents over 2,600 optometrists in the state. COA is dedicated to assuring the highest quality of health care for the public through the advancement of optometry. For more information, go to www.coavision.org.