There are many things I enjoy about my job, one of these is when I speak to groups of developmental professionals to teach them about how vision affects reading and learning behaviour. The idea that vision has something to do with reading is pretty basic, but the details are somewhat complicated. There is a growing awareness among professionals who work with reading and learning disabled children that vision is a much more important element than once thought. Only when vision is properly managed can we even begin to get a sense of what, if anything, is really wrong. Indeed, after some training, special ed teachers and occupational therapists find that when you address behavioural visual concerns, most often, other learning problems seem to go away, or at least become much easier to manage.
Troubled vision is almost never detected through the schools because little to nothing is done to attempt even the simplest of checks, let alone something more meaningful. The severe lack of attention to vision, especially in early elementary, is a major reason why many children run into trouble reading and learning. Even then, when children struggle, schools generally pay no attention to vision, the most obvious first place to look. Developmental professionals, especially occupational therapists and special education teachers, are the first to recognize the benefits of addressing vision problems in a more serious and comprehensive fashion.
In an upcoming book, I go into some detail about the varied elements of vision, how these will impact individual children, but also how some ethnic groups are especially hard hit by visual impediments to learning. The book is tentatively titled ‘Nearsighted White Kids: Why Some Children Will Never Succeed in School’. The title refers to the fact that some kids are at a real advantage in school, while others are at a strong disadvantage, right out of the gates. By ignoring vision, we are quietly agreeing that some children should fail – though the schools will make attempts to help, the help is almost never fruitful because the basics are ignored, something like trying to fill a bucket that is full of holes. The book explains all of this.
The current approach to reading and learning problems in the schools is a ‘wait to fail’ approach, and ensures that any child who might fail, will. It also ensures that children who could benefit from proper care and attention, will almost never get the care they need. There are some political reasons why schools ignore vision, and a lot of misinformation and old ideas propagated by a few people in positions of authority. For example, the desire to avoid conflict and controversy with a few parents leads to the greater disregard for the majority: The results speak for themselves with fewer than 15% of children EVER being checked, while 20-40% of children in any class will have some sort of significant, yet manageable, visual impediment to learning. Some will also state that vision is not important, or that glasses weaken the eyes. Until these attitudes are replaced with sound clinical reasoning, and schools facilitate visual examinations for parents, the classroom will remain like the Wild West – it’s every child and parent for themselves.
The solution is simple: Look for and address obvious problems before they become monsters that are much more difficult to control. A simple sight test will not do this. For parents, the best option is to have someone in the schools to do assessments on a regular basis. This eliminates the need to leave work and take children out of class for an exam. There is no cost to parents or the school for this service and it saves millions to taxpayers, and years of grief for affected kids and their families. So why is this not done?
At the present time, schools will neither encourage nor facilitate regular and comprehensive assessments of the most basic and fundamental tool for learning – vision. Sadly, we all pay the price for this, but the affected children and their families pay the highest price of all.