If you have a child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or are an adult with the diagnosis, knowing how to best manage the symptoms can be challenging. In fact, the symptoms themselves can sometimes reflect a complex of problems related not only to ADHD but also to other issues—such as a functional vision problem.
That’s exactly why Ann Pieper says, “When it comes to ADHD symptomatology, there’s no one size that fits all.”
Ann Pieper is the founder of the The ADHD Center of Milwaukee. As an educator, ADHD coach, and academic tutor specializing in ADHD-related challenges, she and her team provide services to the ADHD population and others in need of additional support with their academic performance.
ADHD-Like Symptoms May Not Have a Single Cause
Ann says that a significant part of the work she does is assisting people with finding the right therapies for their educational challenges. That can involve helping people understand their ADHD better and providing them with specific pedagogical guidance and techniques that she and her staff offer.
But Ann says it’s crucial to consider symptoms from a holistic perspective. “Educators and physicians may sometimes lump ADHD-like symptoms together and blame it solely on ADHD,” says Ann.
However, her experience has shown that the symptoms and specific challenges of her clients don’t always have a single source. That’s why Ann says, “A lot of times, the first meeting I have with a client involves forwarding them on to other professionals who I think can help them.”
For example, to be fully confident of an ADHD diagnosis, she strongly encourages her clients to see a qualified diagnostician, preferably a neuropsychologist with experience identifying ADHD.
In addition, Ann often sees clients whose academic performance may be affected not only by ADHD symptoms but also from vision-related issues. And that’s when she refers them to The Vision Therapy Center.
“Is Your Child Seeing Properly?”
Although Ann focuses on helping people manage their ADHD symptoms and improve their academic performance, she has seen firsthand how poor visual functioning affects educational outcomes.
“At the heart of so much education,” says Ann, “is the question of vision: Is your child seeing properly?”
The Vision Therapy Center is a valuable resource for Ann—and her clients. “Many of the people we see here at The ADHD Center of Milwaukee have co-occurring learning challenges that are actually vision-related problems.”
Ann recalls a college student, for example, who came to her with a number of classroom and reading challenges. “I had her do some basic reading exercises,” she said. “When she covered one eye to do them, I suspected immediately that there was a functional vision problem.”
Working Together to Address the Issue
Ann adds that this person was likely also experiencing heightened anxiety because of her vision problems, which can actually increase ADHD symptoms such as trouble maintaining focus, and even impulsiveness and poor decision-making.
In addition to initiating a program of academic support for the student, Ann strongly recommended to the student and her mother that she set up an appointment at The Vision Therapy Center for a Functional Vision Exam.
Ann says it’s not uncommon for The ADHD Center of Milwaukee and The Vision Therapy Center to work with people simultaneously.
“They examine symptoms and can treat functional vision-related conditions from a medical perspective,” Ann says. “We focus on helping clients understand their ADHD, manage their symptoms, and develop learning skills. Both of our perspectives can ultimately help improve educational outcomes.”
The Symptoms of ADHD and Functional Vision Problems can be Similar
Functional vision is how your entire visual system—the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways—work together to help you interact with your environment.
When there’s a problem with functional vision, the symptoms can bear a striking resemblance to ADHD. In fact, Ann says on occasion she sees clients at The ADHD Center of Milwaukee whose learning challenges are exclusively related to functional vision problems, not ADHD.
Here’s a chart comparing the symptoms of functional vision problems with those of ADHD.
*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s shortened form of ADHD criteria based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)
**American Optometric Association
The Importance of Getting a Functional Vision Exam
If you have a child struggling in school, Ann says it’s important to keep an open mind on the possible reasons. “Don't just look at traditional labels or look in one direction.” She also says to be skeptical of simple explanations from teachers or doctors that a child will “grow out of it.”
Furthermore, many people, including physicians, don’t realize the similarities between functional vision problems and ADHD.
Whatever the ultimate reasons for a child’s (or adult’s) learning struggles—ADHD, functional vision problems, a combination of these two, other possibilities—Ann implores people to investigate the vision component. More specifically, she suggests they get a Functional Vision Exam.
A Functional Vision Exam is Not Like an Ordinary Vision Exam
It’s important to understand that a Functional Vision Exam is different from a typical eyesight screening and 20/20 vision test, which is done to examine a person’s ability to see objects clearly at a set distance.
In fact, functional vision problems can actually go undetected with a basic eyesight test.
If ADHD is suspected or even diagnosed for you or your child, The Vision Therapy Center recommends the first thing you do is rule out a functional vision problem by taking a Functional Vision Exam.
Vision Therapy Can Help
Even more important, once functional vision problems are identified, you or your child’s visual system can be retrained to work properly with the help of vision therapy.
Based on Ann’s experience, she knows how critical functional vision is for a learner. If there are functional vision problems, identifying them and receiving vision therapy can play a critical role in helping a person with learning challenges, she says.
Would you like to learn more about the support and services that Ann and the staff at the ADHD Center of Milwaukee can provide? Visit their website.
Do you think your child's ADHD-like symptoms may be the result of a functional vision problem? schedule a Functional Vision Exam to find out. And for more info on ADHD and vision problems, download our ADHD guide!