Kid, Drugs, and the Classroom: Asking the Hard Questions

It is a false notion that all children have a visual profile that is ideally suited for the modern classroom.

Still, Alberta schools function as though this were the case. Much like with other schools right across Canada, children with visual impediments to learning struggle and suffer needlessly because no one is paying attention to their very basic needs, namely the relative state of their vision with respect to what teachers ask them to do in the classroom.

Be sure you know what your child’s vision is doing for them in school, and how it might be working against them. In Alberta, vision exams are covered under healthcare. Be sure to let experts decide why your child might not be doing so well in school. Book a vision exam with your family optometrists before school starts.

A great story about my colleague Patrick Quaid appeared recently in the news site. The story brings much needed attention to pseudo-psychiatric vision concern. What now? A pseudo-psychiatric vision concern is where you have a behaviour that is misdiagnosed as a psychiatric concern (ADHD, Dyslexia, and a few others), while in reality trouble with vision is at the core of unwanted behaviours. The fact is, children’s vision affects how they behave and develop to a very great extent.

It’s really simple. General rules: The further visual skills are from those needed for reading, the more the child will struggle in the classroom. The greater the problem with visual development, the more the child is likely to demonstrate unwanted or concerning behaviours. The details are more complicated.

There are many examples of these vision-based problems, but in this case, Convergence Insufficiency is the key issue. “CI” affects about as many kids as are thought to have ADHD, it is the inability to coordinate simultaneous targeting of both eyes on near targets, like homework, and can be very annoying for children as they struggle and strain to read. These children become agitated when forced to do near work, it looks an awful lot like ADHD and dyslexia. Drugs are of little to no value in these cases and pose their risks. What’s worse is the they do absolutely nothing for vision concerns, in fact, they can interfere with visual skills.

From the article:

Teressa van Vliet is the mother of a 10-year-old girl who was diagnosed several years ago with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as other learning disabilities. She said her daughter saw several professionals and ended up being referred to a psychiatrist who offered the diagnosis.

And then came the medication. Van Vliet said the search for the right type of medicine began three years ago with Ritalin, but her daughter has since been switched to other medications in attempts to avoid harmful side effects.

“She was on one medication that was horrible. She dropped weight, she couldn’t sleep. In all honesty, we wouldn’t be medicating the child if it wasn’t for school,” she said.

Outside of school, van Vliet said her daughter does not require medication but her school requested she stay on the drugs because she becomes easily annoyed. Medicine “would never have been our choice.”

The question is: Why do we insist on this practice of prescribing medications before looking at vision and alternate means of instruction? Are we putting children at risk for convenience sake? It would be nice to think schools could do better. The facts show us that 40 years ago, when schools were much more oriented to practical things, and much less in text-based instruction and computer screen time, we had many fewer concerns regarding children’s behaviour and certainly the use of pharmaceuticals to control inconvenient behaviours was virtually unheard of.

As Dr. Quaid puts it:

“We live in a little bit of a quick-fix society,” he said, adding many pediatricians are quick to default to medicine as a way of addressing a child’s wandering attention. “We’re not digging into these cases properly. We’re not doing the right tests. Instead of going from A to Z in 26 steps, we’re going from A to Z in one.”

I couldn’t agree more. Our children are worth a second look. Most of the time, there is no significant problem with vision, but at least 1 of 4 children has a visual impediment to learning that can usually be managed fairly easily to make learning less complicated and stressful. Be sure you know what your child’s vision is doing for them, and how it might be working against them.

In Alberta, exams are covered. Be sure to let experts decide whether vision might be a part of the problem at school before taking unnecessary risks. Book a vision exam with your family optometrist before school starts.

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