Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Visual processing and learning disorders

A recent study published in the journal Current Opinion in Ophthalmology called "Visual processing and learning disorders" came as a surprise to developmental optometrists who have been diagnosing and treating visual information processing disorders for decades.  The main treatment modality is vision therapy, which is neuro-ocular rehabilitation or rehabilitation for the eyes and brain working together.   

The study confirmed what has always been obvious to optometrists - that if the brain cannot properly process visual information, a child will have trouble reading and learning - even if he has 20/20 visual acuity.  The surprise was that the study was  published by ophthalmologists, who for too long have denied that vision had anything to do with learning.  For example, see this 1996 study from the field of rehabilitation medicine published in the journal NeuroRehabilitation by Raymond et al., where the authors advise that patients with potential visual information processing deficits should be referred to a behavioral or neuro-optometrist" and noted that "referrals made to an ophthalmologist may be insufficient, as they are primarily concerned with the health of the eye only."

Another word of advice comes from a recent family advice column from the Washington Post, where the writer said:

how well your son can see, it usually takes a developmental or behavioral optometrist to tell you how well his eyes are working when he reads or when he looks back and forth from the blackboard to the printed page. Some children get headaches because they can’t focus well or their vision is blurry, but they don’t complain because they think that heads are supposed to hurt or that the world is a blur for everyone.
If your son has these or other vision problems, don’t despair. Vision therapy is to the eyes what physical therapy is to the body, and it’s effective 90 percent of the time. He’ll just have to wear special glasses for a little while every day, do some eye exercises every day and maybe play a couple of video games. To learn more, go, the Web site for the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.

Unfortunately, that incorrect approach has denied many patients treatment and diagnoses that would have improved their lives. Thankfully, ophthalmologists have now come around to common sense. The study encourages ophthalmologists to take visual information processing seriously:

Visual processing is the main brain function allowing normal perception of what is being viewed. Ophthalmologists as well as patients must realize that with normal 20/20 eyesight interpretation of what is seen may be dysfunctional because of faulty brain processing of that which is seen by normal eyes. Abnormal Visual Processing as well as auditory processing disorders eventually lead directly to learning disorders in children and young adults.

The study also emphasizes and important point.  Just because a child can see clearly or has 20/20 vision, does not mean that her entire visual system (including the brain) is functioning properly.  For eye doctors to say that nothing is wrong with a child just because she does not need glasses, gives the child and her parents a false and dangerous sense of security.  Moreover, it is irresponsible for a professional to say that there is nothing wrong with a patient when all tests have not been performed.    For that reason, we advocate that only a comprehensive eye examination with a full developmental vision investigation should be performed on a child and "quick-and-dirty" school screenings are not much help and may even be harmful for what they miss. 

 For more information on visual information processing, visit our visual information processing page where you can download our Fast Fact Sheet.

At Vision Source Vancouver, our eye and vision clinic we successfully treat dozens of patients every year for visual information processing disorders.  

Related articles on vision and learning

More visual symptoms means lower academic performance ... - See For Life
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Vision therapy for convergence insufficiency improves academic performance ...
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82% of teachers report an improvement in students after vision therapy - See For Life
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Binocular vision dysfunctions ate my homework - See For Life
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Study proves that vision problems interfere with learning - See For Life
Apr 25, 2012