Attention Deficits and Visual Challenges

Children with visual challenges are twice as likely to develop ADHD, a recent study shows.

Attention Deficits and Visual Challenges in Olympia

American Family Vision Clinic

Approximately one in 5 children have an undiagnosed vision problem that will make it hard for them to read. For example, Samantha may be able to succeed in reading like her peers do, but she needs to work ten times harder just to focus her eyes. Imagine how exhausted she feels exerting so much energy just to see what other kids can see automatically. Now Samantha no longer has the necessary energy and wherewithal to comprehend what she just read and she can become very frustrated and disruptive.

Is it at all a surprise then that children like Samantha don't follow along in class? Or that they fidget in their chair or stare off instead of reading? It is no wonder that children who exhibit similar signs and symptoms as a child with ADHD can be misdiagnosed as such, when in fact they are suffering from a visual challenge that can be treated without medication.

It is very common for school nurses to disconnect poor attention span and behavior patterns with visual challenges, recent research shows.

There are many similar manifestations of vision issues and attention deficit disorders as a child who is struggling with visual skills can have a hard time maintaining focus and completing school tasks. This similarity can result in a misdiagnosis of ADHD and unnecessary medications could be prescribed. Alternatively, visual challenges can be masked by an ADHD diagnosis. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for parents of a child diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder to be falsely reassured that the issue is not related to the child’s visual abilities because their child scored 20/20 when reading from the eye chart during the vision screening test. However, there are many more visual skills beyond 20/20 clarity of vision which are necessary to meet classroom demands.

Signs and Symptoms 

Signs and Symptoms 

If any visual skills are not operating up to par, it could cause the child to be frustrated, inattentive, fidgety, distracted, uncooperative and it often leads to low self esteem. These behavior patterns very much mimic a child who is struggling with an attention deficit disorder. Please note the similarities between the signs and symptoms of visual challenges and those of ADHD:

Visual Challenges  Symptoms of ADHD
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty listening
  • Disruptive behavior in class
  • Struggles to focus when required to read or perform visual tasks
  • Fidgety 
  • Struggles to complete homework in time
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Struggles with reading
  • Poor performance on written tests, despite good grasp of material
  • Closes one eye when reading
  • Skips letters/ words/ lines when reading
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty listening
  • Disruptive behavior in class 
  • Struggles to focus
  • Fidgety
  • Struggles to complete tasks
  • Difficult to remain seated
  • Interrupts others
  • Has difficulty awaiting their turn
  • Blurts out answers 
  • Difficulty multitasking

 

Signs and Symptoms 

Imagine if when you read, you need to close one eye the whole time that you’re trying to get through a paragraph. You may have been able to read from the eye chart perfectly and yet you are struggling when reading from a book and trying to keep up with your classmates. It would be no wonder if by the time you reached the end of reading a page you were tired and frustrated. It is important that a child who is considered to have an attention deficit must also be evaluated for visual challenges.

How do I know if my child is experiencing visual challenges?

When a child is diagnosed with, or suspected of having, an attention deficit, it is highly advisable to schedule an appointment with our developmental optometrist who will assess the child’s visual functions. This includes how the eyes work together as a team, eye tracking, visual perception, and eye focusing, just to name a few of the essential visual skills.

A child with an attention deficit is 3 times more likely to also struggle with a convergence insufficiency. Convergence insufficiency is a visual challenge that occurs when the eyes are not working properly together to be able to focus at near, such as when trying to read. The good news is that this very challenging visual obstacle can effectively be treated with vision therapy.

Dr. Zurcher cartoon

What is vision therapy?

Vision therapy involves a series of sessions in-office, which often include at home exercise as well. The child works with a professional vision therapist doing various activities and exercises which train the eyes to work together properly as a team and strengthens the communication that the eyes have with the brain. This yields very effective results as a child’s visual skills can constantly be developed and strengthened and this can truly have a positive effect on behavior patterns. When a child no longer has the visual obstacles preventing him or her from being able to keep up with the demands at school, he or she can finally thrive with their peers.

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