by Michael Cole, OD, optometrist, Child and Family EyeCare Center

When you have a bright child who doesn’t achieve his or her potential, we often affectionately call them “underachievers” because we know they are capable of achieving so much more. While they may be able to slide by with what they learn by listening, reading can be a nightmare.

Over the years, I have found that bright “underachievers” often have vision problems which make reading difficult.

Sometimes they are described as auditory learners because they can remember things they have heard much faster and easier than anything they read. A clear sign that a vision problem may be at the root of your child’s difficulties is poor performance on written or standardized tests.

It may surprise you that many children who have vision problems interfering with learning actually have 20/20 eye sight (with or without glasses). This is because 20/20 eyesight means you can see a certain size letter at a distance of 20 feet, whereas vision is a complex process that involves 17 visual skills, which are critical to academic success; and seeing 20/20 is just one of them.

Frustrated child

More than 60 percent of children who struggle with reading and learning have vision problems, which are typically correctable. Yet when undetected, these children continue to struggle, don’t reach their potential and perform poorly on standardized tests.

One of the easiest ways to identify children who have a visual component to their challenges is to compare their verbal performance to their reading and/or writing performance. For example, many parents will tell me that they can’t understand why their child is so bright when they talk with them, yet reading and academic performance doesn’t reflect their true abilities.

The following are some additional signs that your child may have a vision problem that is contributing to his or her difficulty with reading and/or learning:

  • Skips/repeats lines when reading
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Homework takes longer than it should
  • Headaches at the end of the day
  • Trouble keeping attention on reading
  • Difficulty completing assignments on time
  • Difficulty copying from board
  • Burning, itchy, watery eyes
  • Tilts head/closes one eye when reading
  • One eye turns in or out
  • Avoids work/reading
  • Holds reading material too close

If your child has any of these symptoms, there is a strong possibility that a treatable vision problem is contributing to his or her difficulties. Depending on the depth of the vision problem, these vision problems can often be treated over the summer, which will give your child a better start to the new school year.

The first step to determining if a vision problem is contributing to your child’s learning challenges is a developmental vision evaluation performed by an optometrist who provides an in-office program of optometric vision therapy.