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Does your child struggle with attention problems?  Does homework take longer than it should?  These can be signs of a vision disorder.  Even if your child has passed vision screenings, this article is for you.  Passing a vision screening means your child can see the letters on the eye chart she is supposed to see from a distance of 20 feet (20/20).  In addition, seeing 20/20 is just one of 17 visual skills critical for learning.

Undiagnosed vision problems can make it difficult for a child to make sense of what they read. As a result, they do poorly on written tests.  This can lead parents and educators to think that the child is just lazy, not trying hard enough, or may have a learning disability, or even ADHD.

According to neurologists, Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide, in their book The Mislabeled Child, they explain that if a child has a vision problem it can have “drastic effects on brain development, learning, and thinking if it prevents the flow of accurate information to the brain.”  Too often parents assume that if a child passes a vision screening that everything is fine with their eyes, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being able to see things clearly far away is no guarantee that a child can see things at reading distance or that they have the necessary visual skills to be able to locate the right spot to log their answer on a scantron form.  In order to read, children not only have to see the letters clearly, but they have to be able to move their eyes easily from left to right (tracking) and their eyes have to work together to give them single, clear vision for a long period of time.

One in four children have an undiagnosed vision problem that can interfere with learning and lead to academic problems, behavioral problems, or worse.  In addition, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, up to 60 percent of children who are struggling with learning disabilities may have correctable, undetected vision problems that play a significant role in their difficulties with reading and learning.

A new report* shows that children with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) were found to have a higher rate of vision problems that can impact learning than children without IEPs. The majority of these vision problems are very correctable.

In fact, the study states, “Many of these vision problems would be undetected by vision screenings based on distance visual acuity, illustrating the need for comprehensive vision examinations for children who are struggling academically.”

Here is a story a mom shared with me that may help you get a better understanding of how a child can have a vision problem that interferes with academic performance:

“Jimmy didn’t appear to have any visual problems, but he was frustrated with trying to read – we assumed it was the difference with boys and girls. 

Jimmy’s right eye looked inward, especially when he was tired and our pediatrician recommended having Jimmy evaluated for surgery to straighten his eye. However, I had seen Dr. Bowersox’s sign on the building and researched vision therapy on the internet.  We elected to have Jimmy’s eye/vision exam at Bowersox Vision Center. 

We learned that Jimmy had no depth perception and was not processing what his eyes were seeing. This caused him to use intense concentration when playing handheld video games and also explained why he was having so much trouble with reading. 

After vision therapy his reading ability increased tremendously, and his frustration level went down.  After completing vision therapy, Jimmy voluntarily picks up books to read.  His penmanship has improved greatly and he does not have to concentrate as fiercely. Jimmy’s eyes are almost always straight now!”

As parents, it’s important to understand that our children don’t know how they are supposed to see.  The way they tell us they are having difficulty is by their behavior.  So it’s important for parents to know the signs to watch for.  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?

¨ Take much longer doing homework than expected?

¨ Have trouble making out words?

¨ Slow when copying or make lots of errors?

¨ Find it harder to read at the end of the day than in the morning?

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

¨ Reverse letters like b’s into d’s when reading?

¨ Have difficulty taking standardized tests?

¨ Have a short attention span with schoolwork?

Even one of these symptoms could signal a possible vision problem.  Regular eye exams typically evaluate only eye health, acuity (how clearly you can see the eye chart) and the need for glasses (or contacts).  So in order to determine if your child has a vision problem blocking learning or performance on standardized tests, you need to see an optometrist who provides Developmental Vision Evaluations that test:  eye movement control, focusing near to far, sustaining clear focus, eye teaming ability, depth perception, visual motor integration, visual memory and visual perceptual skills.

The good news is that visual skills disorders are typically very correctable.  For more information, please visit:


Dr. Dan Bowersox, of Bowersox Vision Center, is a board certified developmental optometrist who has been in practice for more than 20 years.  He provides specialized services for children and adults with vision-based learning problems, as well as vision care for the entire family. Dr.Bowersox is a popular speaker with parent and professional groups and may be reached at:




* Vision Problems of Children with Individualized Education Programs; Jeffrey J. Walline, OD, PhD, Erica D. Johnson Carder, OD, MS; Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio;  Journal of Behavioral Optometry, Volume 23/2012/Number 4