On November 2, 2014, we watched runners from all over the world compete in one of the most grueling athletic events on the planet – the New York City Marathon! It was an exciting race with both first-place winners coming from Kenya: Wilson Kipsang for the men finishing at 2:10:59 and Mary Keitany for the women finishing at 2:25:07. Congratulations! Wilson-Kipsang-of-Kenya-celebrates-as-he-hits-the-tape-to-win-the-mens-division-of-the-the-44th-annual-New-York-City-Marathon-in-New-York-Sunday-Nov But what would that race have looked like if the runners were also required to carry a 20-pound weight?  Would they have been able to complete the required 26 miles? 10 miles? or even 1 mile? Would they get frustrated and want to quit? For children who suffer from a learning-related vision problem, that is exactly how they feel when they go to school – it’s like trying to run a marathon while wearing a 20-pound backpack!

A “learning-related vision problem” refers to any number of vision disorders that interfere with reading and learning. It may be something as simple as nearsightedness where the child can’t see the board clearly. Or it may be something more complex, like convergence insufficiency, in which the eyes do not align properly when looking at a book. This may result in headaches, fatigue, or even double-vision.

As teachers and parents, let’s not forget that the process of learning is very much like running a marathon – it’s extremely difficult, it takes a long time, and you’re only happy when it’s done!  But if the child is simultaneously suffering from a learning-related vision problem – in other words, if the child is carrying a “heavy weight” due to a vision disorder – well, then you’ve just turned a difficult task into an impossible one. Unfortunately, many of these disorders are undiagnosed or ignored.

The good news is there’s help. Seek advice from a developmental optometrist and see if vision therapy is right for your child.  Help your child get rid of that ugly 20-pound backpack.

(For an excellent video on the relation between vision and learning, I highly recommend watching “20/20 Isn’t Everything – A Child’s Vision is Critical to Learning.”)

If your child is diagnosed with a convergence insufficiency, vision therapy might be available at no charge– see if your child is eligible for this new federally-funded research project –CITT-ART.