When children struggle with reading and learning it can impact the entire family. “Homework was a daily battle. Tears often ensued as we attempted to work our way through the assignment; read a few words, stop, silence, frustration,” shares mother of three, Wendy Kinkade from San Antonio, Texas.
“Many homework battles occur when there is no apparent explanation for why the child avoids reading. The child is bright, interested in and understanding of material when presented in an auditory format,” Dr. Kara Heying, OD, FCOVD, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) explains. “However, when reading from paper (or digital device), typically the child begins just fine, yet after a few words or a few minutes the child starts struggling. This is actually a sign of eye coordination and eye tracking disorders .”
“This August marks the 20th year National Children’s Vision & Learning Month will be observed,“ Dr. Heying continues; “It was started in 1995 with a presidential proclamation from President Bill Clinton. The purpose of the proclamation was to help parents and educators understand that undiagnosed vision problems can block learning and lead to years of unnecessary struggling. COVD continues developing this understanding through this annual observance.”
Ryan (17 years old) and Jacob (13 years old) both struggled with schoolwork for more than 7 years. “They were each several years behind their peers in reading and were tutored in school since their early elementary years. Neither of the boys had passed a test on their own since elementary school, standardized testing was torture, and they hated school,” Kinkade explains; “They were bright students, and could exhibit mastery of anything they were taught verbally or through demonstration, yet could not do the same with any assignment or testing they were required to read independently. They learned enough to avoid being labeled as learning disabled, but never enough to reach grade level or move beyond required school intervention.”
“During reading homework, they would make it through the first few words and then stop, every single time. They avoided reading at all costs. I couldn’t tell you how often I grew frustrated and yelled at the boys for this,” Kinkade continues; “I could not conceive how they could possibly lose their place only a few words into a paragraph.”
When she was finally informed that eye coordination and eye movement problems were at the root of her boys’ struggles, she found hope and relief. It turns out the boys repeatedly lost their place while reading due to significant eye tracking issues. Their eyes would jump around the page, skipping words and lines of text, making it impossible for them to understand what they were reading. Additionally, Mrs. Kinkade learned her boys just had trouble seeing the text on the page; the words often became blurry and sometimes actually looked like they were moving.
“Every part of the boys’ diagnoses made sense and perfectly explained the reasons for every academic struggle. I had felt since Ryan was in second grade and Jacob in kindergarten that SOMETHING was not right, yet no doctor, teacher or counselor could answer the question of what. Many tried to explain it away as ADD/ADHD or said they were ‘just boys’ and would ‘grow out of it.’ I was crushed that it had taken so long, yet so grateful there WAS actually something.”
After a program of optometric vision therapy , Kinkade shares their success, “I can tell you in all sincerity that it has given my boys their lives back. Where they were previously hampered by their impairments, they are now without limits. They now fully engage in conversations, exhibit higher level thinking and are more socially confident. I had not realized how much their visual impairments had hampered their overall interaction with the world until I saw them begin to truly experience it.”
In addition, both Ryan and Jacob are actually performing at grade level. “Their grades are climbing and their confidence is soaring. Ryan scored a 97 on a recent English midterm; and Jacob gained 4 grade levels in reading in just one semester;” Kinkade shares proudly, “Dare I say homework is even easy now?”
Kinkade has become a staunch advocate for educating other parents on the vital link between vision and academic performance. She has referred more than 90 students (and their parents) for comprehensive vision evaluations and continues to receive phone calls and messages from others who desire to hear more about Optometric Vision Therapy .
“I am so thankful to have found out what was causing my two boys to struggle. My assumption that they ‘could see fine’ based on their visual screenings in school was terribly wrong. I am sure most parents of struggling readers share the same misconception. I hope that by sharing my boys’ story that other families are able to find the missing link to their child’s struggles;” Kinkade wraps up, “It still amazes us to see how easy learning has become for them; it is almost as if they never struggled before.”
The signs that a child may have an eye coordination or eye tracking problem are easily mistaken for attention problems and learning problems. The child is often thought to be a bright underachiever or just lazy and not trying hard enough. Dr. Heying states, “If you or someone you know is struggling with reading and homework, visit our website and learn more about the critical link between vision and learning.”
COVD’s Public Service Announcement video highlights the need for annual eye exams for children. Parents and educators are encouraged to watch and share it with friends and family.