Helping Children with Autism Focus on the World Around Them

For parents of children with Autism, it is a never ending quest to sort through all the different therapies that are available to help improve quality of life for those on the spectrum.
“I was always told my son, Cass (who was diagnosed with high functioning Autism in January 2014 when he was 9 years old) could see 20/20, so I didn’t even think that his vision could be contributing to his reading problems,” Penelope Massagee of Charleston, SC, shares; “You can imagine my surprise when I found out he was seeing double and that words looked like they were moving on the page. He must have thought it was normal, because he never complained!”
It is a common misconception that 20/20 means one has perfect vision. The term 20/20 was actually developed in the 1800’s and only means one can see a certain size of letter from 20 feet. There are a variety of other visual skills required for academic success and functioning in life including eye coordination and eye tracking problems.
For many children on the Autism Spectrum a program of optometric vision therapy can help them learn the necessary visual skills for reading and functioning in life.
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Learning Disability Awareness Month

Inadequate Vision Screenings Contributing to Epidemic of Children with Learning Problems

Only two years after The Nation’s Report Card showed that only 38% of students could read at or above the level of “proficient,” our nation’s children continue to struggle with reading – at epidemic levels.  Many parents are told their children aren’t far enough behind to warrant special services at school, yet they continue to struggle with reading and learning.  Other children are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities when in fact they have undiagnosed vision problems at the root of their struggles.

“In June 2011, we featured a story about educators in New Jersey who routinely screen for learning-related vision problems. Their district had one of the lowest rates of student classification for special education services in their county,” states Dr. Kara Heying, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). “In addition, parents shared that optometric vision therapy was one of the interventions that makes a big difference in their children’s ability to read and learn.”

It is a logical assumption that checking hearing and vision would be one of the first steps to identify why a child is struggling with reading. While eyesight, or visual acuity, is typically assessed, the main test is whether a child can see certain-sized letters from a distance of 20 feet (hence the term “20/20”). However, reading occurs at approximately 6 to 15 inches. People mistakenly assume that, if distance vision is fine, then vision at reading distance will be as well. This unfortunately means that vision isn’t tested at reading distance, nor are eye coordination and focusing taken into account.

Optometric research has shown that more than 10 million children struggle with reading and learning because of eye coordination and eye focusing disorders. Research also clearly indicates that both of these disorders are very treatable with optometric vision therapy. “While there is no critical period or age limit for vision therapy, early identification is always recommended,” states Dr. Heying.

“Most children who are having trouble with reading after working on it for four, or five, or six years are not easy to fix. They believe they are just stupid or just can’t do it. Why? Almost never are they stupid,” shares Katie Johnson, author of Red Flags for Elementary Teachers. Ms. Johnson has taught first grade, in both Maine and Washington, for 37 of the 46 years she has been a teacher. In addition, she has worked as an adjunct professor of literacy in the teacher-training programs of Pacific Oaks College (California) and University of Washington (Bothell campus), as well as in the graduate school of Lesley University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), and has done a multitude of professional development presentations all over the United States.

Neuro-optometric Rehabilitaion

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation is using optometry or treatment done to the eyes to help patients with cognitive disabilities. A persons dominant sense is vision and it is important to optimize the sight of a patient in order to understand and see the world around them. In order for objects to be seen and understood, gaze, attention, motivation, eye tracking, and visual processing done by the brain all come into play. Because posture, spatial awareness, motor output, memory, cognition, and behavior are integrated into the visual system, problems in any of these areas can effect daily activities and quality of life. Neuro-optometric rehabilitation is used to help, but not limited to, traumatic brain injuries. These traumatic brain injuries can include car accidents, work accidents, TBI, and/or stroke. To treat this, sensory motor evaluations, visual perceptual skills testing, and a variety of other tests may be administered. The course of action is based on the brain plasticity that will resolve the symptoms and improve its function. Patients often are not diagnosed properly or treated correctly even when they may be suffering from vision-related symptoms. Knowing there is an explanation and a path forward through the help of neuro-optometric rehabilitation can be transformative.

ADHD and Screen Time

Screen use is an epidemic causing a rise in nearsightedness in both children and adults. Patients with ADHD have a harder time managing the time spent on devices which in turn leads to visual symptoms corrected only by glasses. Outdoor activity can reduce the chances of developing eye problems. Take a look at the flyer below for more tips to help reduce the use of electronic devices. Provided by the Understood Team at understood.org