Discovering Vision Therapy Blog

Why This School District had a Lower Need for Special Education Services

A lesson from New Jersey on why we need to screen for learning-related vision problems.

Sometimes you run across a statistic that is so compelling that you feel like running through your neighborhood, grabbing people by the shoulders, and screaming, “Look at this!” The post about special education services and screening for learning-related vision problems is a perfect example.

We’re referring to the following paragraph, which appeared in this blog post by our good friend Dr. Rochelle Mozlin at the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD):

“In June 2011, we featured a story about educators in New Jersey who routinely screen for learning-related vision problems. Their district had one of the lowest rates of student classification for special education services in their county,” states Dr. Kara Heying, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). “In addition, parents shared that optometric vision therapy was one of the interventions that makes a big difference in their children’s ability to read and learn.”

Is there a correlation between screening for learning-related vision problems and a low rate of special education services? After reading the preceding paragraph, the answer seems rather apparent.

It’s also apparent when you deal with functional vision problems on a daily basis. At The Vision Therapy Center, we constantly see children (and adults) who struggle with reading and other academic areas because of a functional vision problem. Once that issue is corrected, their learning-related struggles lessen or end altogether.

Some of our patients come to us after being incorrectly diagnosed with a learning disability, dyslexia, or ADHD. In that district in New Jersey, a simple screening for learning-related vision problems seems to have eliminated many of those mistakes.

So why isn’t the educational system shouting these findings from the highest mountain tops? Why aren’t each of our Presidential candidates pushing this forward as their #1 priority for educational reform?

As Dr. Mozlin points out in her post, “Only two years after The Nation’s Report Card showed that only 38% of students could read at or above the level of ‘proficient’, our nation’s children continue to struggle with reading -- at epidemic levels.”

Could fixing our school’s vision screenings be the cure-all for all of our problems?

No, but it could definitely make a significant impact. So let’s take a look at why the current vision screenings in school aren’t up to snuff.

Screening for Acuity, Not for Functional Vision Problems

We’ve touched on this issue in numerous blog posts, such as “Do Kids Need a ‘Drunk Reading’ Test for School?” The core issue is that most vision screenings in schools account for acuity, or the eyes’ ability to see an object clearly. This involves our old friend, the Snellen eye chart.

The Snellen eye chart alone may not indicate a functional vision problem.

But acuity is just one component of vision. A screening should also test depth perception, eye tracking, processing, and a host of other visual skills that make up a person’s functional vision.

Functional vision, which is your visual system’s ability to see an object in space, is a topic we’ve blogged about often. It’s surprisingly foreign to many parents, educators and even medical practitioners.

Here’s one example of how functional vision works. A young boy is reading a book. His acuity is good, and he can see the letters clearly on the page. But when he has to follow a line of text across a page, he struggles. He may lose his place, words may appear to jump across the page, or he may experience two images - double-vision.

The problem is his eyes may not be working in tandem.  If his eyes can’t effectively focus at the same point on a page, and have images in each eye that can be combined into a single, solid 3D image by the brain, then his functional vision is impaired.

He loses his place. Words jump or appear doubled up. He struggles.

Naturally, because he’s passed the school’s vision screenings, the immediate reaction is to diagnosis him with a learning disability. Or ADHD. Or dyslexia.

Don’t get us wrong -- all of those issues could be involved. In fact, we have patients who may have one or more of the conditions and a functional vision problem. These conditions can exist with or without a vision problem.

But checking for a functional vision problem first could prevent a misdiagnosis from the individuals who don’t suffer from any of those issues.  And that starts with an effective screening for functional vision problems.

Our functional vision exam is quite extensive and comprehensive, but this level of testing doesn’t need to be administered to everyone. Simply using tools like our Vision Quiz, teachers, parents and medical practitioners, can help determine if someone needs a functional vision exam. If the exam reveals a functional vision issue, vision therapy can help correct those vision problems.

While those children in New Jersey might not have received vision therapy, at least many of them were not steered in the wrong direction with an incorrect diagnosis.

“Optometric research has shown that more than 10 million children struggle with reading and learning because of eye coordination and eye focusing disorders,” Dr. Mozlin notes.

With this many children struggling, we can make a difference by working to modify our screening processes. It could lead to resolving these functional vision problems through vision therapy.

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Posted by   The Vision Therapy Center, Reviewed by Dr. Kellye Knueppel

The content in this post created was written by professional writers and then reviewed and edited for medical accuracy by Dr. Kellye Knueppel of The Vision Therapy Center.   Learn more about Dr. Knueppel's medical background