Learners with reading problems: Can it be vision? Part 1
In our schools across the country, we find thousands of learners who just can’t manage reading. In the lower grades, children struggle to learn to read, and in the higher grades, they cannot read to learn. In all other respects, they seem to be normal and just as intelligent as their reading classmates.
This is so sad. We know that these children start school with an eagerness to learn. Then they are confronted with reading and in spite of trying really hard, cannot do it. They fail and fail again. The primary path to learning is through reading, so this first experience of school, of the world of learning and education, has become a disaster.
In spite of the high number of children with reading problems, not all teachers or their schools are aware of the visual problems that may underlie the difficulties. Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners are confronted on a daily basis with families who report that their child’s eyesight has been tested and found to be normal. But they still can’t read.
The truth is that vision for reading requires far more than is tested in a standard eye examination. This aims at identifying refractive errors (near or far-sightedness, astigmatism) or an eye turning in (strabismus). These problems are caused by irregular eyeball shapes which prevent the image focused by the lens from falling accurately onto the retina.
Reading requires more than accurate focusing – it also needs good binocular vision. This is the process requiring several sets of nerves and muscles which make it possible for the two eyes to work together so that an image falls on the centre of each retina, then fuses into one and finally has the lens focus the image. Binocular vision is what enables us to see in three dimensions, to estimate distance and basically is crucial for almost everything we do with our eyes. Reading especially requires good binocular vision so that the eyes can fixate effortlessly on a visual target; images appear clearly as one; the eyes are able to track along letters, words and sentences or shift from one target to another. A child with poor binocular vision may show other problems as well. She may appear clumsy, have trouble stacking blocks or pouring water into a cup – all because she cannot judge space accurately.
All of this means that a child may not be visually ‘ready’ by the time they begin school. The question of why puzzles us, and we have no definitive answer. The changing nature of children’s games may be questioned. Instead of games of the past that challenged visual-motor coordination have been replaced by electronic and battery-operated toys, leading to a lack of practice of the visual system. TV occupies a significant percentage of children’s leisure time without providing practice for the visual system.
If reading is a problem, then the child’s vision needs closer investigation. This should be carried out by a Developmental or Behavioural Optometrist, who is a professional with additional training in Binocular Vision and can help a child with Visual Therapy to improve binocularity.
Unfortunately, there are few such specialists in our country so if you are not in an area where you have access to a Developmental Optometrist, you can see if you have an Integrated Learning Therapist (ILT) close to your school or community. ILT practitioners are trained to screen for binocular issues and have the tools to very successfully help children whose reading problems are causing them so much stress.
Visit our website at www.ilt.co.za to learn more about this approach, find a list of available practitioners and also consider a training course with us. These courses help teachers learn more about neurodevelopment and learning as well as helping to identify the underlying causes of learning difficulties. The courses are accredited with SACE for CPTD points and with ETDP-SETA for credits towards further qualifications.
You are welcome to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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