COVD is excited to announce the selection of Vision and Learning by Dr. Heike Schuhmacher as the 2017-18 Tour de Optometry Companion Book! This book will be sent as a gift from us to accompany speaking events at each of the optometry schools in North America. Thank you to Dr. Schuhmacher for donating copies of her book to make this program possible!

Vision and Learning was the first of its kind in Germany and has opened the eyes of medical professionals and parents alike to the critical connection between vision and learning.  We are so excited to share this exclusive look at the book’s origins, written by the author herself, and look forward to sharing the next several parts of this blog series with you!

Why I Wrote Vision and Learning – A Guide for Parents and Professionals:

How Undiagnosed Vision Problems Cause Learning Difficulties and What You Can Do to Unlock Your Child’s Academic Potential

by Dr. Heike Schuhmacher, FCOVD

Practicing in Germany, I am a consultant school physician specializing in pediatric developmental disorders and learning disabilities, and a Fellow of COVD. Every year in my private practice, we see many children struggling with learning issues and concentration problems. They keep telling their parents “I can’t see it,” but are discouraged and silenced by innumerable visits to the ophthalmologist who insists they have “hawk’s eyes.” They end up believing that something must be terribly wrong with them and that their learning problem is simply a problem of intelligence, concentration, or lack of motivation.

In the end, it turns out that the majority of these kids are in fact suffering from undiagnosed vision problems.

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The entryway to Dr. Schuhmacher’s practice

 

Although we see more than one hundred new kids every year, these are only the ones whose parents doubt the ophthalmologist’s opinion and set out on their own, scouring the internet for terms like “vision therapy”. Some try to discuss it with their doctor, but to no avail; the idea is dismissed and they’re told VT is simply “bogus”.

Our practice’s multidisciplinary therapy department is centered around vision therapy. It is our daily pleasure to see so many of these children getting involved in active therapy and developing visual skills and new confidence in their ability to learn, no longer blamed for their past difficulties with labels like “lazy”.

A patient and optometrist at a computer-based therapy station

 

My daily conversations with parents, teachers, and school faculty reveal so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about concentration and learning and so much lack of information about visual brain functions – and on the other hand so much interest to learn more about this field.

In my lectures and seminars, teachers admit how helpless they feel, struggling to help “difficult” children that are seemingly unresponsive to their educational and tutorial efforts. I tell them that the only way out is to question whether the child’s so-called deficits in concentration and motivation are really deficits in those areas at all.

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Building visual skills

 

We must end the blaming. The parents blame the teacher, the teacher blames the child and parents, and both groups of  adults create a negative learning environment that makes the entire problem worse. The main reason for all the misinterpretations and even misdiagnoses is: educators and families have no access to understandable information about learning problems caused by underlying visual dysfunctions.

I often invite teachers to witness our diagnostic process if a child and parents are willing—most  diagnostic methods are perfect demonstration tools. It is such a relief for parents and teachers to literally see that the problem is NOT their fault and NOT the fault of the child, but a medical problem!

So, because of all this, I simply had to write this book.

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I decided I would provide in-depth information about the neurophysiology and neuropsychology of vision, aimed at an interdisciplinary audience, and including widely-varying perspectives and levels of complexity, all with one common focus – a suffering child.

Making this vision a reality was quite the undertaking, but after two years of feedback, I can say it was the right decision.

My book is the first one in Germany on the topic of vision and learning. I am honored that parents, teachers, learning support professionals, pediatricians, child psychiatrists and psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech-language therapists have all read my book. All these readers with very different levels of education had learned about the symptoms of perceptual problems in their own fields of specialization, but within my book, they learn facts about vision and learning they’d never before encountered.

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Some of the most interesting reactions came from child psychiatrists. A high percentage of our patients come in with a prescription of Ritalin (methylphenidat) and, after completing vision therapy, no longer need it. This did not stay a secret. I know that many of my medical colleagues had felt uncomfortable prescribing so much Ritalin in recent years, but saw no other choice for lack of an alternative. Now, such an alternative is possible after they have seen so many of my patients make the transition from medication. A group of psychiatrists now keeps a vision symptom questionnaire on-hand and refers to us before they resort to prescribing stimulants.

Reactions to this book in relation to children with hearing and speech-language problems have been very important. An increasing number of children with central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) in the vicinity of my practice have been coming in for comprehensive vision exams and vision therapy; they need especially good visual skills to compensate for auditory handicaps.

Most parents end up buying two copies of the book: one to inform their pediatrician, and the other to ensure that their child’s school understands which accommodations in the classroom are necessary and why.

The most important outcome of this book: well-informed parents make confident decisions to start vision therapy. My optometric colleagues report increasing numbers of new patients and better communication with school faculty and referral sources.

After the long and arduous process of writing a comprehensive text on a relatively-unknown subject in Germany, it has all been worthwhile to see so many positive changes in children’s lives and the systems that surround them. Now, I am excited to offer an English version – extending my sincere thanks to Dr. Leonard Press for his willingness to clarify many complicated translation questions and to write a foreword that engages all kinds of readers with its contents. I can only hope that the English translation of my book will continue to decrease the blaming of misdiagnosed children who struggle with vision problems, and that there will come a day that every child who struggles in school is given a comprehensive vision exam as a first step.

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