Guest Post: Does Your Struggling Reader have a Vision Problem?

Parent Post is written by
Dr. Howard Kushner of Integrative
Vision Skills
Dr. Kushner is a Developmental Optometrist
in Clifton Park, NY. I first ran this post back in May, 2011. It seems time to
run it again, since the information is still quite valuable.

met Dr. Kushner several years ago by attending a workshop he presented. This
workshop opened my eyes to the world of vision issues in struggling readers.

the years, I’ve referred several students to Dr. Kushner. Through Vision
Therapy, these students have made huge progress towards becoming competent and
confident readers and students. Not all struggling readers have vision issues
but a surprising number do.


Does Your Struggling Reader have a Vision Problem?

Dr. Howard Kushner

your child:

  • Lose their
    place when reading?
  • Have poor
    reading comprehension?
  • Have poor
  • Have a poor
    attention span when doing close work tasks?
  • Have headaches
    or eye strain when reading?
  • Tilt their head
    or close one eye when reading or writing?


you answered yes to any of these questions then your child may have a visual
skill deficit.

does vision have to do with learning? This is a critical question, in part
because so many children have undiagnosed or misdiagnosed vision
problems. These vision problems can interfere with reading,
math, and learning in general.

is the process by which we interpret and place meaning upon the
information that comes in through the eyes. It is critical to understand that
vision is a process that involves a connection between the eyes and the brain. 

20/20 eyesight does not necessarily mean that you have an efficient visual
process. It certainly does not mean “perfect” vision. Skills such as eye
teaming, focusing, eye movement control, and the various visual perceptual
skills are critical to the visual process.

is our spatial sensory system. It gives us information about where we are in
our environment, where objects are relative to each other, and where those
objects are relative to us.

we use our visual systems for more than just determining where things are. We
use vision to tell us what things are as well. However, the most fundamental
function of the system is spatial in nature. The biological advantage that
vision offers is directed meaningful movement.

visual system is the guidance system for the body, the hands, and the feet.
There is such an intimate relationship between movement and vision that I often
think of them as one big system. It’s like they are two different sides of the
same coin. 

If we look to nature, organisms that don’t have a spatial sensory
system don’t move in a meaningful way. Yes, trees move and they don’t have a
spatial sensory system. They sway in the wind, but that is not purposeful and

point of all this is that our visual system was not designed to read. The
system was designed as a guidance system for the body. Reading is a relatively
new activity evolutionarily speaking. In Behavioral Optometric lingo we say
that reading is a “socially compulsive, biologically unacceptable task”.

of the real problems is that the visual system was not designed for sustained
precision in coordinating the eyes as a team, focusing the eyes and moving the
eyes, when looking up close – which is of great necessity when reading. If we
are using excessive effort or attention to coordinate, focus, or move our eyes,
we are draining that attention away from the task at hand. So, comprehension
suffers, reading fluency suffers, handwriting suffers, etc.

small visual inefficiencies can lead to big problems academically. Every day I
see children in my practice with academic challenges and most of those children
have visual skill issues. I always look at visual skills as “learning
infrastructure.” Without efficient infrastructure reading and learning cannot
be efficient.

what can be done to improve visual skills? What can be done to make the visual
system more compatible with tasks such as reading and computer work? Often
eyeglasses can be prescribed to make it easier to execute visual skills.

Vision Therapy is very effective at
building better visual skills. Vision Therapy is like Occupational or Physical
Therapy, but for the visual system. It is a set of activities designed to
improve focusing, coordination of the eyes, and eye movement control. I’ve been
in practice for over 20 years and I continually see children’s lives get turned
around with Vision Therapy.

also developed the Integrative Vision
Skills Program
. This is an innovative, home based Vision Therapy program.
It is very effective at building visual skills and is based on the Vision
Therapy activities that I use in my office program. You can check it out here:

for a list of symptoms that could
signal a vision problem, you can go here:

all, remember that if your child is having difficulty in school, please
don’t ignore the fact that visual skill deficits can be part of the problem.


you, Dr. Kushner, for this post and also for the work you do to help students
with vision issues become successful readers and learners.

leave a comment if you have questions or a Vision Therapy experience you’d like
to share.



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