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Educators May Overlook Student Vision Problems

As children head back to schools which have reduced budgets, National Children's Vision & Learning Month (in August) will take on new meaning. Teachers and administrators now need to be more creative in order to help their students succeed. This may include challenging previous concepts regarding vision and learning.

Two educators from New Jersey have shed some light on why teachers and administrators across the U.S. are rethinking their model of vision and how it relates to learning.  Many students with attention problems or learning disabilities, as well as gifted students, who don't achieve to their potential have one thing in common: vision disorders that have contributed to their learning difficulties.

"As a principal who sits on the intervention services committee, we try to do whatever is possible to stop children from needing to be classified for special education services,” said Nicole Moore, principal of Indian Mills Elementary School. “Our district has one of the lowest rates of student classification for special education in the county. I believe screening and remediation of learning-related vision problems have been a significant factor in reducing the number of children referred for special education services.”

Moore credits Director of Pupil Services Barbara Scola for bringing optometric vision therapy to her school as one of the many interventions necessary to help their students.

“I was working on my master's thesis on reading interventions and had the opportunity to work with a student who had excellent comprehension when the material was read to him, but struggled when he tried to read on his own,” Scola said.

Signs of learning-related vision issues:

  1. Homework battles, even for children who do well in school (because their eyes are tired at the end of the day from straining to focus)
  2. Tilts head or lays head on the desk during reading
  3. Short attention span when reading
  4. Poor reading comprehension
  5. Skips lines, rereads lines

As she worked with him, she found that he knew his words in isolation, yet when he saw the same words at the beginning of a line in a paragraph he didn't recognize them because he cut off the first two letters. For example, he would read “Treat yourself to some ice cream” as “Eat yourself to some ice cream.” Scola tried teaching him context clues to help it make sense, to force him to go back and look at the beginnings of the words, but it was laborious.

“This was quite a mystery, so I started researching to see what it could be. I suspected that his vision might be playing a role, so I started searching for information on learning disabilities and vision. And that's what lead me to optometric vision therapy,” Scola continued.  

Following Scola's recommendation, the mother took her child to an optometrist who had an in-office vision therapy program. After completing optometric vision therapy, he did very well in school.

Once Scola received her Master's Degree in Education Administration, she joined Moore in the Shamong School District as the director of pupil services and began implementing her new strategies

Moore encourages other principals and administrators to “think outside the box” when it comes to learning or reading issues. “I had never heard of optometric vision therapy before. Now we know what to look for in children with possible vision disorders, and with vision therapy, we have seen significant changes in these childrens’ ability and enjoyment of reading.”

Moore and Scola (now the director of special services at Winslow Schools) were delighted to learn that the American Optometric Association responded to President Obama’s call to ensure that no child is left behind in the classroom due to an undetected or untreated eye or vision disorder. At a School Readiness Summit in Washington, D.C., experts documented and recognized the established link between healthy vision and classroom learning.

As a result of this Summit, the American Federation of Teachers issued the following statement: “Even the most gifted students will struggle academically if they have trouble seeing the blackboard or focusing on a book. A tremendous amount of learning happens visually, so proper vision care is crucial to helping students reach their full potential.”


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