Finding the vision connection to childhood reading problems and unhappiness begins with a simple question

Once upon a time there was a young boy who loved to read. He even hid books beneath his bed at night and would sneak them out to read with a flashlight under the covers. That young boy was me! To be sure, reading gave me happiness!

There are several things in life that we hope for our children. Certainly a couple of those top things are for them to have confidence and happiness. This is especially true when it comes to the school environment. After all, this can set the stage for the future success of that child including an enjoyment for reading which is not only important for a child’s academic success but research shows reading is linked with happiness. Conducted in 2016,  the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS), found that those who read report better connections with others and greater feelings of happiness overall. 

Yet, given the potential for positivity of reading, we know there are many children who dislike reading. Parents are aware of their child who struggles with reading and often the assumption is that the child is either “not trying hard enough” or has a form of dyslexia (reading disability). These two explanations are usually frustrating for both the child and the parent. On one hand, it implies the child needs more parental controls for the perceived behavioral problems for lack of effort, which adds to more unhappiness. On the other hand, when a type of reading disability exists, then a combination of compensatory strategies or accommodations and educational tutoring is needed to help develop the reading performance. However, even with all the extra parental attention and academic help, there often exists an unaddressed effort to the task of reading which makes it a struggle and unenjoyable. 

As outlined in numerous VisionHelp Blog posts, the visual system plays a foundational role in a child’s ability to successfully read. What’s more, we have evidence based clinical practice guidelines by the American Optometric Association (AOA) that outline what tests all optometrists should be performing on school-age children with reading and/or learning problems. But, too often these important visual tests are overlooked if the doctor is not aware of any parent concerns regarding a child’s reading. And, to be sure, most school-age children will not simply volunteer this information.

Therefore, the solution to this disconnect could be solved by the answer to a simple question which should be a part of every school-age child’s comprehensive eye health and vision examination.  The question for the doctor is easy. Every child should be asked, “Do you like to read?

If the answer is, “No”, then a few more questions are in order to learn if a child is experiencing any academic difficulties. The next step for the doctor should be to include additional testing to identify if there are sensorimotor conditions in binocular vision (eye teaming), accommodation (eye focusing) and oculomotor (eye movement) abilities. 

In fact, the American Optometric Association (AOA) Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline, The Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination (CPG-2), gives a detailed and thorough overview. It is an excellent paper and one that all eye care providers should study. However, it’s 65 pages long and while an excellent resource for the doctor’s personal library, it’s sheer length could lead to possible procrastination for the reader.  But, thanks to the work of Dr. Carole Hong of the VisionHelp Group, you can access an excellent summary of the AOA CPG 2 in an easy to read, concise 2 page downloaded PDF available on the VisionHelp Vision and Learning Project, entitled, AOA Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines: Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination 2017 – Clinical Pearls

Here are three examples:

  • When a child’s history or initial testing indicates a possible developmental lag or learning disorder, additional testing should be performed to rule out a learning-related vision disorder.
  • Vision problems such as accommodative, binocular vision, eye movement, and visual information processing disorders can interfere with academic performance.
  • Vision disorders that occur in childhood may manifest as problems well into adulthood, affecting an individual’s level of education, employment opportunities, and social interactions. 

The Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination 2017 – Clinical Pearls can be helpful for doctors, teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists, educational therapists and other professionals who work with children who struggle with reading. When a vision-based problem exists, proper lenses and vision therapy can bring happiness to a child’s life by developing excellence in visual readiness skills to help facilitate making reading easier, more enjoyable and setting the path for academic success.

But, first it begins with the question…”Do you like to read?”

Dan L. Fortenbacher, O.D., FCOVD


One thought on “Finding the vision connection to childhood reading problems and unhappiness begins with a simple question

  1. Chalee, I have specialized in this for over 40 yrs. Please read this and related info mentioned in the basic article and let me know how we can send out this info to families with children struggling with reading and academics in general. Thanks, Bruce


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