Learning-Related Vision Disorder, Dyslexia, or ADHD?
Can Vision Therapy Help?

What is a Learning-Related Vision Disorder?

Many of the observable traits that a child with ADD/ADHD and Dyslexia display are also seen in children with learning-related vision problems. A learning-related vision disorder is a functional visual problem that interferes with a child’s ability to effectively process and interpret information seen through the eyes.

This may directly affect how one learns, reads, or is capable of sustaining attention on their work. The visual skills necessary for learning go far beyond just the ability to see clearly.

1 in 5 children in the classroom have a vision problem that affects their ability to read and learn.

To understand how vision and learning are related, it’s necessary to know the difference between eyesight and vision. Eyesight and vision are two very distinct things.

Eyesight is the ability to see letters clearly on a chart at a distance of 20 feet. A common misconception is that 20/20 eyesight means you have perfect vision.

Vision is More Than Seeing

However, 20/20 eyesight is not enough. Vision is more than seeing clearly; it’s the ability to obtain meaning and understanding from what we see with our eyes. Vision is a complex combination of learned skills, including eye movement coordination, binocular fusion (eye teaming), accommodation (focus) and visualization.

When visual skills are well developed, a person can sustain attention, read and write without careless errors, give meaning to what they see and rely less on movement to stay alert. When there is a vision problem, the visual system interferes and causes a mismatch between sensory information.

The visual system then has difficulty integrating and communicating with other sensory systems resulting in a loss of information processing.

Vision is learned, just as walking and talking are learned. A baby starts with the ability to receive light, but he/she must learn to interpret the incoming light into meaningful images. He must be able to: use both eyes together and point them in different directions (eye teaming); learn to follow a moving object with his eyes (eye tracking); learn to focus from near to far; and learn to coordinate his hands with eyes.

All these skills are necessary for optimal performance in school.

Research has shown children with learning-related vision problems showed a 3x greater likelihood of ADHD. The diagnosis of ADD/ADHD should not be made lightly and because of the strong similarities with vision problems its important that a visual issue be ruled out prior to the diagnosis.

Too often doctors are carelessly rushing to a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and prescribing dangerous drugs to children.

Dyslexia-type symptoms can be seen in children with deficits in visual skills like eye tracking, eye teaming and visual perceptual issues. These visual issues cause letters, numbers and words to appear to move or jump around on a page which leads to trouble with reversals.

The important question to consider is what the child is doing when the symptoms are displayed. Often times it’s most evident when the child is at school and is asked to sit and work at his desk.

Current school settings require children to perform their duties seated and within a working distance of less than 16 inches. So if the majority of a child’s day at school is spent using their eyes during desk work, how much value should be placed on being able to see a letter chart at a distance of 20 feet?

Checking for 20/20 eyesight is generally all that is performed during a school screening or at the pediatrician’s office. Does it make sense that the 20/20 test is going to provide enough information to determine if a child uses his/her eyes and visual system to effectively learn?

To determine if a visual issue is masquerading as a learning problem it’s necessary to have a functional vision evaluation with the appropriate near-point testing.

The Link Between Vision & Learning


Problems Vision Therapy Can Help

A number of visual problems in any of the following areas can have a significant impact on learning:

  • Eye Movement Coordination (Visual Tracking) – following a line of print during reading or tracking an object smoothly
  • Binocular Fusion (Eye teaming) – eyes working together as a team to make images from both eyes into one image
  • Accommodation – eye focusing during near work and looking from near to far
  • Visual-Motor Integration – eye-hand coordination
  • Visual Perception – visual memory, visual form perception, and visualization

Because the visual system is so intimately involved in the processing of sensory information, a vision problem can often have an affect on many aspects of learning, behavior and development.

The following list shows the overlap of characteristics in children diagnosed with ADHD and those with vision problems:

Vision Therapy & Dyslexia

It is important to understand that developmental optometrists do not claim to directly treat reading and learning disabilities, but rather treat the underlying vision problems.

Vision therapy can alleviate the visual problems that interfere with skills necessary for reading and learning, allowing a person suffering from dyslexia the opportunity to function at a higher level.

If a vision problem is present, vision therapy can be recommended to address the problem. There are many instances where a child is diagnosed with ADHD or Dyslexia and following a program of Vision Therapy, the diagnosis is removed. In those cases, the learning-related vision disorder was interfering with school performance.

There are also cases where true ADHD may be present after the visual issue has been remediated and in those circumstances medication may then be appropriate for the child. But because an underlying vision problem may be the culprit, it should always be ruled out first before any consideration of medication.