Are We Missing a Key Factor in Learning?

Are We Missing a Key Factor in Learning?

Katherine Minton, PhD, M.S.Ed, is a certified educational diagnostician, with advanced interdisciplinary training and experience in multiple issues that affect learning. Dr. Minton consults with parents of K-12 students and with adult learners at a distance and in Oregon. She works with a network of highly skilled professional practitioners who believe in an integrated approach to developing strong learning abilities.

Are We Missing a Key Factor in Learning?

The huge growth in the percentage of young people with learning difficulties worries everyone. We ask: Why are there so many learning problems and why do so few kids make much progress with special education or tutoring?  It may seem to be a total mystery, but there are solutions.

Hardworking educators develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and classroom accommodations, following laws and guidelines, but there is a problem. Decision-making about help for struggling students follows a narrow process. Information from Response to Intervention (RtI) or from testing tells only a small part of what could be known about factors contributing to learning problems. Why is this happening?

Excellent research in several fields finds connections between learning difficulties and a variety of physical problems. This information is rarely included in learning disabilities assessments, so we’re missing the whole picture. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, but one very critical piece is often ignored.

About 70% of what we learn comes through our eyes, yet vision screenings done at school and the pediatrician’s office, as well as vision tests done by many eye doctors, do not look for common learning-related vision problems. Seeing 20/20 at a distance doesn’t mean that the eyes are working together, that books are seen clearly, or that the eyes change focus quickly between the whiteboard and a notebook on the desk.

Valid research studies show a high correlation between undiagnosed vision problems and academic failure and placement in Title I and special education classes. Public schools provide speech therapy, audiology, OT, and counseling services, but  comprehensive vision exams and vision therapy are not included, so a gaping hole is left in the learning supports needed by many struggling students.

You may have a client, family member or friend struggling in school, whether an elementary age child learning to read or an adult in college.  Some children with an undiagnosed vision problem appear to be distractible or fidgety and may be misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Often people of all ages who have reading difficulties are told they have “dyslexia” and a truly in-depth vision exam is not conducted. Please tell them about learning-related vision problems that routine testing for 20/20 vision does not discover. Let them know that there are doctors of optometry who have earned the FCOVD designation or have other specialized training and experience in developmental vision. Sharing what you know might change a young person’s life.

©Katherine Minton 2013

When vision is working well it leads and guides in all that we do, when not, it interferes.” (John Streff, OD, FCOVD)

Approximately 70% - 80% of academic learning is done through the visual system. Children use their vision to read, write, do math, follow examples from the teacher, spell, and create. However, vision doesn't work by itself. Vision is intricately integrated with the motor system, the speech and language system, the vestibular system, the emotional system, and our physical and nutritional health.

Writing, coloring, cutting, knitting, sewing, and other fine motor activities are actually Visual/Motor Integration activities. These tasks are visually directed. The motor system needs to be working, as well as the visual system, and then they have to be working together to produce a proficient end product. Slow writing, difficulty copying, poor spacing between words, knowing the answers to a spelling test but can't get the words correct on the test are all examples of visual motor integration problems.

Sports are examples of how the visual system and the large motor system are connected. The eyes lead the body to react to a ball, stay on a beam, stay in bounds, and judge the terrain. You have seen a bat being swung too early, a football misjudged and the pass missed, a slice of a golf ball and a bicycle wipe out due to not judging a crack in the sidewalk correctly.

Do you remember holding a baby, having them stare at your mouth while you were speaking? They are using vision to learn how to speak. Speech is also developed when adults point at objects and give them a name. Speech delays are common with children who are visually impaired or blind.

Balance is mostly thought of in respect to the vestibular system; however vision problems frequently lead to dizziness. Visual neurons pass directly through the vestibular portion of the brain; this explains how the two systems are connected. (Did you know that car sickness is frequently caused from inefficient eye movements?)

Physical, nutritional and emotional health are all impacted by our visual efficiency and our visual health. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and auto-immune diseases are some examples of physical problems that can cause significant visual problems. Emotional problems can also cause a loss of vision. Usually this is temporary. The focusing mechanism shuts down at times when an individual has a traumatic event. Children are known to do this when they go through a significant family event such as divorce or death in their family. Physical and emotional abuse, including severe bullying can also bring on this problem.

Don't forget to check the visual system when there are other types of delays or difficulties. Vision problems are often treatable, yet missed. Vision screenings at school and doctor’s offices check to see if the child can see the board across the room.  Most of school learning is done at near distances and the problems are not tested.  The children need to have these problems diagnosed and treated to succeed to their fullest ability.  Problems in motor, speech, the auditory system, the vestibular system, the emotional system, and their physical and nutritional health are evaluated.  However, don’t forget to have the vision system (not just the visual acuity) evaluated for vision related learning problems.

Call for an appointment today if you or someone close to you has academic problems (reading, writing, math, spelling, etc.), coordination problems (even if they run in your family), Autism, ADHD, Gifted but not producing at his/her level, developmental delays, strabismus, amblyopia, and so much more. Please visit our website at for more information or call our office so that we can meet your needs.

Dr. Marcy Rose, OD, FCOVD

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