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Taking a Look at Vision Skills

Reading–what a wonderful part of life! But it doesn't always come easy... I volunteer with a non-profit information group called Parents Active for Vision Education. These are parents whose children have suffered from undiagnosed vision skill deficiencies, although my own son never really “suffered,” because we homeschooled. I've met many other parents, however, whose children suffered greatly, but who were eventually fortunate to discover that they simply had vision skill difficulties that could be easily remedied.

A person who has vision skill deficiencies might see letters doubled, jumbled, moving around, or falling off the edge of a page. Some words might be missing completely! He might even see the letters clearly and perfectly in place, but his brain might not process what he sees into anything meaningful. There might be perfectly good vision for things across the room, but difficulty up close. A child with vision skill problems will usually assume the words on the page look the same to everyone, but that he's just not good at decoding them. An eye test might show that the person has 20/20 vision; but that's only one small measurement of how vision is working. Besides having 20/20 acuity, we need to have a smoothly working vision system, which is a very complex system of dynamics.

At age 12, my son had good reading skills, but had never read books just for pleasure-and certainly never a thick one or one with fine print. Then a reading specialist noticed that his eyes didn't seem to be tracking smoothly across the page, and suggested we get his vision skills tested with a developmental optometrist.

During the initial screening test, the developmental optometrist found that he had excellent reading skills, but had to work very hard to process information as his eyes tracked across the page. After two dozen sessions of therapy, it became obvious that things were chaning dramatically. He was suddenly drawn to and reading thick, adult level books with fine print. He started picking up books around the house and devouring them. He noticed how curiously large the print seemed in the fourth and fifth grade level books he had read before, and commented that they “don't have much in them.” That was over four years ago, and he's continued to be a voracious reader ever since.

Current research indicates that approximately 1 of every 4 children has learning related vision skill problems. The National Society for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that 10 million children in the United States have undiagnosed vision problems. Research also shows that 7 out of 10 juvenile delinquents have undiagnosed vision problems.

Teachers, and even parents, often label kids as lazy, unmotivated, looking for attention, or learning disabled when, in fact, undetected vision problems are at the root of their difficulties. Children who seem to be struggling with learning that involves the visual process (reading, writing, math, etc.) need to have comprehensive, learning-related vision exams.

“20/20 vision is not enough,” says Bev Ehlers of Parents Active for Vision Education (PAVE), a national non-profit organization founded by parents and teachers of children who suffered the effects of undiagnosed vision problems. “It doesn't relate to the way we read, type, write, or do math,” she explains, “and yet it's the way most of us have our vision tested.”

PAVE's free information packet explains that a child with 20/20 eyesight may yet have problems with eye movement control, eye teaming ability, sustaining clear focus at near and far, sharpness of sight at the reading distance, eye-hand coordination and visual perception and memory. A good learning-related vision test should evaluate 20 such subskills of vision.

Parents are urged to have their children evaluated before they are introduced to reading. Margie Thompson, PAVE founder and president, says “A child who is experiencing a learning or behavior problem should have a developmental vision exam. An undiagnosed or uncorrected vision problem will hamper a child for the rest of his or her life. Learning is joyful for the child with strong visual, auditory, motor and thinking skills. These are all learned skills. We create failure for children when we focus on what they learn before how they learn.”

An article (included in PAVE's packet) in the May/June 1992 issue of Natural Health tells the story of Laura and Barney Taxel's twin sons, for whom two ophthalmologists recommended surgery to correct “turned-out” eye problems. The doctors both insisted that visual training is “nonsense” and “voodoo”, but the Taxels held out for vision training with a Developmental Optometrist. Says parent Laura Taxel: “I told Simon and Nathan that I was writing a magazine article about their 'eye work' and asked them if they had anything they'd like to say. 'Maybe when other people find out what happened to us it will help them too,' Nathan said. 'And maybe some kids won't have to have surgery,' Simon added. 'It worked for us, 'cause now we can really see.”

Ophthalmologists (medical doctors who specialize in diseases of the eye) are often unaware, and sometimes skeptical, of the benefits of Developmental Optometry. Optometrists and ophthalmologists have entirely different training, and optometrists will send patients to ophthalmologists for certain conditions, since not all vision problems can be corrected by vision training. A Developmental Optometrist puts the patient through procedures which result in retraining the brain to take in visual information-the child's internal computer is reprogrammed with new vision skills.

It is important to determine that a practitioner of vision therapy is a certified Developmental Optometrist, sometimes known as a Behavioral Optometrist. To be certified as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), an optometrist practices vision therapy for three years, and completes oral and written testing and case reports. An optometrist may also do effective vision therapy as a Member or an Associate of the COVD.

For resource information: Parents Active for Vision Education (PAVE), 9620 Chesapeake Drive, Suite 105, San Diego, CA 92123-1324. You can phone (800) PAVE988 or e-mail for a pamphlet or a free information packet which is quite extensive, but you can read it all on their website at Website:

They can also answer questions and tell you about certified therapists and parent groups around the country.

Indicators: Here are some of the more obvious signs that may indicate vision skill problems. Of course some of these, like daydreaming, are not things we're normally concerned about as homeschoolers, but others might be obvious symptoms.

Physical Clues:

Performance Clues

Secondary Symptoms

Lillian Jones, the editor of BestHomeschooling, once trained to be a teacher and taught in public schools for a short time before realizing that she didn't feel comfortable in the system. Later, while homeschooling her son, she found that teacher training was much more of a hindrance than a help. She has long been active in homeschooling activism and online support, especially with the HomeSchool Association of California. Her writing has been published in a number of popular publications and books about homeschooling, most recently in the book, See, I Told Me So!. She now pursues her lifelong passion for art, painting and traveling.

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