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Posted on 06-02-2015

More Studies on Dyslexia and Vision

Literally minutes after my last post on dyslexia and vision, two more items related to vision and learning came across my desk. Last time the issue was yet another study trying to ignore the importance of visual development in cases of learning difficulties - particularly dyslexia. Here are two more studies, this time with less bias and more open-minded questions being asked.

The Baltimore Sun featured an article about a study underway by researchers at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital asking if some students are struggling to read because they can’t see. This study appears to be looking strictly at reduced eyesight, that is, nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. These common conditions, while in some cases could possibly be involved in reading problems, are much less likely to be the main issue than poor eye movements, eye teaming and/or focusing. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that this study is being done and that someone is taking visual issues in struggling students more seriously. I hope this can bridge the gap to an even broader view of the importance of the visual process in reading and learning.

Behavioral optometrists often prescribe lenses for children with reading and learning difficulties. These lenses, however, are not always based on eyesight deficiencies. In fact, most people with reduced eyesight also have eye movement, eye teaming and/or focusing deficiencies that are rarely diagnosed. I commonly prescribe glasses for children who are able to see clearly at all distances. These lenses help reduce stress on the visual system. The lenses are often part of a vision therapy program, but sometimes the lenses alone can make a huge difference in a child’s performance in school. Lenses change what the brain is doing, whether they are prescribed to see more clearly or to reduce stress and improve performance in other ways. You can read more about this type of lens here.

The Society for Neuroscience website featured a brief piece with the headline: Genetic defect linked to visual impairment in dyslexics. This study found that dyslexics with an altered copy of a certain gene associated with dyslexia “are unable to detect certain types of visual motion.” University of Connecticut neuroscientist Joseph LoTurco, who studies brain development and was not involved in the study said, “This is the first paper I am aware of demonstrating a genetic marker that distinguishes between dyslexics with deficits in motion perception and those without. It could be extremely valuable in future studies designed to discover optimal intervention strategies, and in early detection for children at risk for dyslexia.”

This sounds like a clear connection between visual processing and dyslexia, the very thing the study I wrote about last time insisted was impossible. Behavioral optometrists have been providing optimal intervention for people with reading and learning difficulties (dyslexia or otherwise) for over 70 years with outstanding success. This optimal intervention is called vision therapy. We are very happy when the science catches up with what we are doing and proves what we long known from decades of clinical experience.

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