Clear Thinking About Vision Problems


WTM Logo Susan Wise Bauer is an accomplished historian and home schooling guru who is the curator of the Well Trained Mind Forums.  I picked up a copy of her new book on the strength of a recommendation in the Wall Street Journal last week, and was pleasantly surprised with her discussion about functional vision problems.  Before getting to that, permit me to state that I always derive an extra measure of satisfaction from discovering critical thinkers who think clearly about vision problems.  That she is a critical thinker with a sparkling intellect is certainly evident in this interview with Ms. Bauer from 2010:

Back to the book, which is a wonderful resource from a variety of angles.  First, after identifying broad distinctions between disorder, disability, and difference, Ms. Bauer notes: “The borders between the three are vague and inconsistent because people are organisms, not mathematical equations; our weaknesses always involve both mind and body, and the labels we put on them shade imperceptibly into each other.”

Having said that, she classifies functional vision problems as a set of disorders that can be medically diagnosed.  She writes: “Vision function problems are potentially a huge block to learning.  Most children get standard vision screening at their pediatrician checkups, but more subtle problems are often missed.  Farsightedness, eye teaming problems (both eyes cannot stay focused on the same point), and poor tracking (inability to keep eyes focused on a single line of print) are generally missed in standard vision tests, because most children can focus properly for short periods of time … A child with a vision function problem can pass a traditional eye test at the optometrist with flying colors, but still struggle to see text properly …


… The difficulty can show up as short attention span, daydreaming, or lack of interest – and is often misdiagnosed as a learning disability.  Screening by a vision specialist who is a member of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development ( should always come before a child is labeled as dyslexic, dysgraphic, or having ADHD.”

The section concludes with commentary by a mother, M.J., who writes regarding optometric vision therapy: “The vision function therapy took thirty-two weeks, less than a school year, and permanently fixed those vision function problems.  This was life-altering both at school and at home.  My child, who thought she was stupid and uncoordinated and hated school, started believing herself smart and able and loving school, simply because her vision was finally working properly.”

Ms. Bauer concludes this chapter with an ACTION PLAN, advising that every struggling child need to have physical difficulties ruled out.  She advises to consult a College of Optometrists in Vision Development member if a child has any of the following signs:

  • while reading, skips or rereads lines
  • reads and/or completes homework at a snail’s pace
  • has poor reading comprehension
  • reverses letters or confuses similar letters
  • has a short attention span while doing written/reading-based work
  • rubs eyes, had headaches, says eyes are tired
  • cannot write on lines, has poor copying skills
  • can answer questions orally but not in writing
  • has trouble with basic math concepts of size and position
  • tilts head oddly while reading words or numbers

If ever you’re having a rough day, and wondering about the extent to which we’re making a difference in the world, pull this out and read it again.

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