The Cost of Ignoring Vision in Learning

As I’ve written many times in the past, there is a real cost to not addressing vision as a fundamental need in learning. That is, by NOT assessing and managing such  basic need, many children struggle against themselves to try to simply keep up. Sometimes the visual status of a child is so challenged, it completely overtakes their personality development and affects not only academics, but emotional status and behavior. These children are most often relegated to remedial programs, diagnostics, and drug treatment that does little more than torture the child with little to show for it but ballooning health care and education costs.

A recent survey of a few schools revealed more compelling data to show this conclusively. In one school, 158 students were assessed for health, eyesight, refraction (need for eyeglasses), and a number of performance measures. Of the 158 students:

> 18% needed glasses simply to see the board more clearly, but were not at risk of losing vision.

> 25% had bad enough eyesight that it was causing them to lose vision and/or interfere with learning and behavior.

> 24% had visual control problems that were likely to cause interference with reading.

Of those who need simple eyeglasses for clear sight, or therapy (including therapeutic lenses to rebuild vision), fewer than 5% had received care. Of those who had never received care for vision, the great majority are currently struggling in academics, many with chronic headache and other medical complaints, and 15% had been identified as ‘developmentally delayed’ with significant learning and reading problems. For them, the catch all diagnosis of ‘dyslexia’ will follow them for their lifetimes. In one case, ‘autism’ was the term most likely to describe the child’s behavior.

For children with vision needs for learning, they are most often labeled as ‘dyslexic’ or as having other developmental problems. The typical sequence of care does not even touch vision as a probable or even likely cause of distress, but will include multiple visits to family physicians, pediatricians, psychiatrists, pharmacists, psychologists, and even radiology. Between lost time at school, work, and the costs of testing and treatment (medical and school-based care) quickly adds up to over ten thousand dollars for one child. For the children at this particular school, this means costs in excess of $100 000 looking for something that is really quite simple to find and manage. A developmental vision assessment is less than $100 and most often leads to meaningful care and lasting benefits. Either way, the costs are covered under Alberta Health Care.

Vision (not eyesight) is so fundamental to learning and child development that it can and will affect a child’s behavior in very important ways. Not attending to vision at the outset, as a child starts school, is foolhardy and leads to ballooning education and healthcare budgets. Not addressing vision in children who are known to have reading and learning problems is no less foolhardy, but it also amounts to cruel treatment. If we know there is a problem and do nothing for it, we are guilty of neglect in depriving the child of his full potential, and in subjecting him to unnecessary, invasive, and often dangerous testing. Common sense dictates that we at least look for what should be an obvious cause of learning and behavior problems – vision.

As for this one school, plans are in play to ensure all children who need care will get it – and that makes good sense for everyone.

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