“We got him reading assistance, and we even talked to his teachers about retention (holding him back to repeat a grade),” Cooper said. “We had many concerns before we even thought about vision.”
Even after the usual vision checks, their son’s grades suffered. “Then one day the school reading specialist said, “He doesn’t see what everybody else sees,’” Cooper recalls. “That’s when we started asking more questions.”
The Coopers’ lesson is an important one for parents in the critical first few weeks of the school year, according to Dr. Julie Toon, a Wichita optometrist and president of the Eye Care Council.
“Vision problems often cause issues that might be explained by other conditions,” Toon said. “Always get a thorough eye examination when children struggle at school.”
That’s what the Coopers did, even after they were told their son, John, had good vision.
“I still remember being told that he has perfect sight, but poor vision,” said Cooper, whose son’s problem was identified four years ago. “His acuity is fine, but other factors weren’t working right. Just because he could see didn’t mean his eyes could work in a way that would allow him to read. He couldn’t track from top to bottom or left to right.”
The Coopers turned to Dr. Stacy Clark, an Eye Care Council optometrist in Salina. Her practice includes vision therapy, which treats problems such as the ability to focus, eyes not working together (known as eye teaming), visual perception, tracking and visual motor integration functions such as eye-hand coordination.
According to Clark’s website: “Current research shows that about 20 percent of school-aged children have undetected vision problems that are hindering their school performance. Children can have 20/20 eyesight and still have vision problems in other areas.”
Cooper said his son’s reading ability improved one full grade level in the 12 weeks it took to complete Clark’s vision therapy program.
“Vision therapy doesn’t make a student a good reader, but it eliminates a hurdle,” Cooper said. “Our son is better at sports, too, because he has better hand-eye coordination, and other aspects of his life have improved as well.”
As a result of the Coopers’ experience, the Abilene district’s Student Intervention Teams now consider whether vision is a cause when assessing student underperformance.
Results are impressive. In three years, the district was able to identify vision problems – rather than learning disabilities or other reasons – as the cause of poor performance. In the 2010-11 school year alone, 37 students in the program doubled their reading progress rate, on average, in effect “catching up” with the grade reading level of their peers.
“To have a possibility that vision might be a reason is a relief to most parents, and even to kids,” Cooper said. “When we told our son something was wrong with the way his eyes worked, he was thrilled. He knew he was smart, but he felt stupid because he had problems reading.”
Toon encourages parents to observe their children and to consider whether an undiagnosed vision problem might be an issue in school performance.
“If a reader confuses words, rubs eyes, tilts material at an angle or holds books too closely when reading, then the problem may be vision-related,” she said.
In addition to encouraging parents to have school-age students’ eyes checked, Toon said the Eye Care Council continues to offer vision assessments for 3-year-olds at no charge through the popular SEE TO LEARN® program. Optometrists have checked more than 50,000 3-year-olds since initiating the program in the 1990s. Participating eye doctors are listed at www.seetolearn.com.
“This is our birthday present this year to all children born in 2008,” Toon said. “Our goal is to make sure every Kansas child has good vision so they are ready for school.”
The Eye Care Council is a special vision health information resource created to educate the public about vision and appropriate eye care. Participating optometrists contribute time, money and professional advice to help people see more clearly, longer. For more information, please consult an Eye Care Council optometrist, call the Council at 800-960-EYES or visit the Council’s website, www.seetolearn.com.