Reading Disabilities in the Classroom, Pt. 2 of 4: The Elephant in the Room


No one will disagree that children with reading trouble should receive help, in some form, and the longer a reading problem is left unaddressed, the consequences will be more severe, and the remedy more complicated. What’s better is when you train visual skills to go along with reading training. Either way, while intervention in reading and learning problems is important, more important is early intervention and prevention. Even slight problems can grow silently, slowly marginalizing students and amplifying their frustration with school. Worse yet, reading impediments can make reading a tedious chore which then closes the door to a world of learning and discovery for a lifetime. You don’t have to want to go to college or university to benefit from strong reading skills. And yes, reading and learning problems can often be avoided.

Every week in clinic, I meet at least a few adults who feel that they have been somehow ‘short-changed’ in school – had they known then what they know now about their vision, they might well have followed a different path. In some cases, the frustration with schooling and reading is so intense that there is a deeply embedded sense of anger with the school system. Careful assessment of behavior, especially visual behavior, can quickly pick up potential problems, then corrective measures can be applied immediately.

As a Province, we don’t do this, however. We do things the way we do because that’s the way we do them and that’s the way will will always do them.

Meanwhile, other jurisdictions have shown that a proactive approach to reading and learning problems – assessing ALL children as they enter the 13-year schooling cycle – saves money and saves families much anguish. In vision problems alone, around 25% of school children, and nearly all of those affected with reading and learning problems, have impaired visual skills or eyesight. These children are sitting in classrooms with no knowledge of their problems, struggling against their vision, and they will never know how things could be easier, if only someone looked a little closer.  In some areas, like in the Diamond Valley, the rates of problems with vision appears to be even higher than average which indicates and even greater need overall.

Currently, however, the schools have no plans for early intervention, neither locally nor provincially. With the prevalence of hidden vision-related learning impediments alone, how often they are misdiagnosed as other problems, and the the potential to avoid many of these problems in the first place, there is no reason to let students suffer needlessly for lack of a proper vision and developmental examination when they start school. This issue is important to all of us, and I will come back to it in Part 4 (now available online at

Part of the problem is that there is a general conception that vision is the same as ‘eyesight’. ‘Eyesight’ is a noun, it refers to the clarity of the image formed in the eye. ‘Vision’ is noun, but it’s nature is much more of a verb. Vision is an active process that integrates all of our senses, except for smell and taste. If one element is out of balance, everything else is affected. Reading eye charts does not detect problems with vision, other than blurry eye sight. Yet, that is the extent of vision checks currently. Imagine taking your car to the mechanic for a check, and he kicks the tires, check the tires’ tread and says ‘yep, she’s good’. I don’t think I’d pay that bill, or feel confident in the assessment.

Often enough, reading impediments manifest or are interpreted as other learning disabilities (LD) – even if the supposed LD is well treated, there will not likely be any improvement unless the underlying visual dysfunction is addressed. This is a problem of education – professionals are simply not taught to pay attention to the single most important sensory component required for learning (vision). I know this from my own training in psychology and education. Still, the the signs of reading impediments are almost always there to be seen when a child is having trouble, and a trained eye can spot it even before the trouble arises. It’s an easy thing to look early and can save a lot of unnecessary cost and grief.


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