Thursday, August 8, 2013

Visual Impediments to Learning: What's it going to be? Your health or your education?

Somehow I have always felt discriminated. I could never really put my finger on it but it seemed like the normal rules didn't apply to me. Things always were a little bit harder on me. Now it's totally obvious this was because of a motor and sensory brain issue. Of course, kids don't think about their brains. What is striking though is that over the years people have been jumping through all kinds of hoops to make things even harder on me. Parents, educational and medical system alike. Now, I have been fairly fortunate still. However hard it got, however frustrating, however cruel, I always clung to trying to learn and master new skills, even after the debilitating surgeries. This has saved me in the end but has come at a high price in terms of health. I graduated with a masters degree in Economics at the age of 21 and speak four languages but by the time I obtained enough English language skills to find out about Vision Therapy I was already well on my way to disability. At uni it's still fairly easy to hide the fact it is getting increasingly hard to function because of an eroding nervous system. I didn't hide it, but I didn't make a big thing out of it either. No wonder nobody understood the problem when my visual system had collapsed under the increasing study loads and consistent medical sabotage. Double vision? Visual learning disability? What?

The main problem with binocular vision problems and strabismus is that it forces you to make a choice between health and education. I'm pretty masochist so I chose for (some kind of) education at whatever cost. Basically, the current eye care system demands one to suffer through education with poor visual skills, requiring tremendous amounts of energy and stamina, and on the side out-study ophthalmologists after you discovered they haven't told you the whole truth by saying surgery is the only option.

Another nasty thing to consider is that poor vision screening methods used by most mainstream ophthalmologists CREATE the binocular issues in the first place. Hyperopia or farsightedness will not be detected using a Snellen eye chart at a distance of 10 meters. Because, guess what, farsighted people have no problem checking things out at long distance. The problem occurs at close distances where most learning and work happens in modern society. Not detecting and consequently not prescribing glasses for hyperopia puts binocular stress on the visual system often causing accommodative strabismus or it's less visible form called convergence insufficiency.

Click to enlarge infographic

This is a HUGE issue. This deprives a person of normal visual brain development and opportunities later in life. I have lived through this and I had theorized that this must be having great consequences for tons of people. So when I read Dr. Boulet's paper on 'Visual Impediments to Learning' and the immense impact poor detection of hyperopia has in terms of lowered socio economic success and heightened criminality and mental illness among those people, it was a very emotional experience. On the Vision Help blog Dr. Boulet formulated an equally poignant comment:

This (the proper detection and treatment of binocular vision issues) is not simply a matter of best practice, but is truly the balance between social equality and the maintenance of suppression of people and populations. The lack of initiative in this area is nothing less than another implicit form of Jim Crow. Disallowing children to participate fully in democracy by the vehicle of education is an unconscionable abuse of basic human rights and fully incompatible with fiscal conservatism (timely treatment would make for lowered tutoring costs, lowered health care costs, lowered social security costs and most importantly lowered opportunity costs for the person losing the chance to be included and contribute to society).

I hope you will read this 'must read' paper which only counts nine pages. If considered by policy makers, doctors and educators proper detection and treatment of hyperopia and binocular vision issues can make a tremendous difference in peoples lives. A link to a pdf version of the paper can be found here.

Another great study by Patrick Quaid showing the high corelation between uncorrected hyperopia and binocular vision issues and how these affect acadmic performance is this one. "Association between reading speed, cycloplegic refractive error, and oculomotor function in reading disabled children versus controls"

Related articles on this blog:
- Book Review: Suddenly Successful: How Behavioral Optometry Helps You Overcome Learning, Health and Behavioral Problems


  1. Michael,

    Thank you for writing this blog. Does vision therapy work for children with strabismus, around 6 years old? I read success stories for adults with strabismus but not children. Is it too hard for children to do?

    1. Yes, certainly! Actually it works better, or at least faster, for children because they are still more susceptible to training and outside stimulus. Of course, children need guidance from a parent and therapist.

      I don't know where you are located but you can look on to find a doctor near you.

      If you are on FB you can also join the group 'Vision Therapy Parents Unite' to exchange experiences with other parents in the process of helping their child.