Overcoming Shaywitz: On Myths and Misconceptions About Vision Therapy

I was browsing at the bookstore early this afternoon, a relaitvely quiet time as most shoppers were winding down their last minute pre-Christmas panic shopping and I had the place nearly to myself.  In the Special Needs section of the store I pulled a softback copy of Sally Shaywitz’s book off the shelf, not having read it for a long time.  In an earlier blog piece I mentioned why Stanislas Dehaene had emerged as an antidote to Shaywitz, but until I re-read her book today I had forgotten just how misguided her position is about vision and vision therapy.  On page 39 Shaywitz puts forth that until recently “defects in the visual system” were held to be responsible for reversals of letters and words thought to typify dyslexia, and that “eye training was often prescribed to overcome these alleged visual defects.”  Later in her book Shaywitz downplays any evidence for the relevance of therapy for convergence insuffiiciency to problems related to reading.  With the book having  gone through 14 hardback printings,  and still with legs in the paperback version, it’s no wonder that Shaywitz has single-handedly help to perpetuate some of the myths and misconceptions about vision therapy that we occasionally hear from parents.

Re-reading Overcoming Dyslexia this afternoon reminded me that Shaywitz’s error of course is equating the eyes with the visual system, which serves as the basis for why other MDs hold the same misconception.  This is why the revival of the role of vision in reading, from those who understand the pervasive nature of the visual system in reading, is such a welcome breath of fresh air.

One recent example of this is research material that is summarized nicely in a book on The Neural Basis of Reading.  You can order it for half price currently through Amazon.com.  I bought the book primarily to read the chapter by Stanislas Dehaene and Laruent Cohen on the Visual Word Form Area, and was not disappointed.  But a delightful bonus was the final chapter by John Stein   In it, Stein writes: “The visual system provides the input to both the lexical and the sublexical routes for reading.  One would naturally assume therefore that vision is the most important sense for reading.  This seems obvious to the layman,  but it is strongly disputed by many experts.”  To see why the “experts” are wrong, read the entire chapter in which Professor Stein emphasizes the visual requirements of reading,  As a bonus, here’s a lecture in which Professor Stein provides the basis for much of his chapter:  John Stein Lecture on Visual Basis of Reading Impairment

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

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