Vision Testing is Considered Potential Key
for Some Struggling Students
By Kimberly Beltran –
Christy Jacobson’s son, Daniel, spent most of his elementary school years struggling greatly to read, which, in turn, made it difficult for him to keep up academically.
Jacobsen tried everything she could think of to help him, from tutoring to all manner of testing, including a routine eye exam, which found him to have 20/20 vision, even though Daniel reported seeing double while reading.
It wasn’t until he was in seventh grade that he was finally diagnosed – following more thorough vision testing – with a binocular dysfunction. With vision therapy to help correct his “tracking disorder,” Daniel’s reading skills began to improve dramatically. Last June, he graduated with honors from Stanford University.
“This would not have been possible if we had not discovered that vision is more than 20/20 – that weak eye muscles can also interfere with reading skills,” Christy Jacobson told the California Senate’s Committee on Education this week.
Daniel Jacobson’s story is not an anomaly, according to recent research, and is why state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, has authored legislation that would require a binocular function test be added to the mandatory vision screening schools already perform on elementary school students.
Most people are familiar with the school eye screening, in which a student stands 20 feet away from a chart lined with letters – progressively decreasing in size – and, covering one eye at a time, reads as many lines as possible. Currently, students undergo this routine vision test three times at the elementary level.
But while this screening could indicate a problem with distance vision, it does not detect potential for a whole spectrum of vision disorders, including binocular dysfunction, Wright and several supporters of his SB 430 told the education panel this week.
As proposed, SB 430 would require a clinically-validated “symptom survey” to be administered to all third graders. The survey consists of 15 questions designed to indicate potential problems with binocular function, which includes depth perception, right-to-left tracking and convergence, or, the ability of both eyes to focus on the same object or word.
While Wright’s office has not provided a cost analysis for administering the survey, Maureen Powers, senior research scientist for the non-profit Gemstone Foundation, said she believes the costs would be limited to paper and 10 to 15 minutes of each third grade teacher’s time to read the questions aloud and have students fill in their answers.
Others put the cost to fund such a program, depending on the type of screening used, at between $1 and $2 per student.
Since it is estimated that between 25 and 50 percent of kids who have difficulty reading have a binocular dysfunction, this simple survey could have a great impact not only on an individual student’s academic success but on school budgets as well, SB 430 supporters say.
“Often we place these children in special needs education so potentially we could save a lot of money by simply diagnosing what their problem is and correcting that as opposed to some of the other things we do,” said Wright, who has been working to get similar legislation passed for the better part of a decade.
While the idea that a link exists between undiagnosed vision disorders and poor reading/academic skills is not new to many eye specialists, the concept is gaining traction on a broader scale nationwide as schools, parents and education advocates focus in on specific reasons why students may struggle.
Georgia optometrist Dr. David Cook, founder of the Cook Vision Therapy Center and author of When Your Child Struggles: The Myth of 20/20 Vision, contends that undetected eye-muscle coordination problems affect school performance year-round but are especially problematic during high-pressure standardized testing situations – distorting the results.
Adding to the problem, Cook said in a PR Newswire story, is the fact that many of these students assume everyone sees the way they see. They don’t know they have a vision problem, and they don’t know life-changing help is available.
In Connecticut, behavioral optometrist Dr. Juanita Collier said she has been trying to convince anyone who will listen of the importance of early and thorough vision testing of students.
She is currently in talks with a school in Hartford to launch a study aimed at early detection and intervention of visual disorders
“Identifying children with potential visual issues early, and correcting these visual issues with glasses, behavioral changes and/or optometric vision therapy will enable these children to achieve their full academic potential,” Dr. Collier said.
Only three states that she knows of, said researcher Powers, require a full-blown eye exam that would detect many of these disorders. The requirement in Wright’s bill, she said, is a step in the right direction toward detecting vision problems and getting students back on track in school.
For Daniel Jacobsen, said his mother, Christy, it could have saved years of heartache, headache and struggle.
“This bill will give children a voice and will give their parents the information they need to help their children succeed in school,” Christy Jacobsen said.
SB 430 will next be heard April 24 in the Senate Health Committee, whose chair, Sen. Ed Hernandez of Los Angeles, is an optometrist.
* This article was reprinted from SIACabinetReport.com.
Please note: In-office therapy under the direction of a behavioral optometrist using prisms, filters and lenses, as used with our patients, is far more effective than home-based therapy.