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Problems With the Brain, Not the Eyes, Cause of Learning Disabilities

Houston (November 9, 2001) –Most parents of children without learning disabilities take for granted their children’s smooth progress in learning to speak, read, write, and interpret other forms of communication, such as facial expressions. Unfortunately, parents of children who have learning disabilities travel a more difficult road, where their children struggle to make progress in these areas.

Learning disabilities affect hundreds of thousands of American children each year, although the exact number is unknown, due to difficulties in diagnosing the disorders. By definition and under law, learning disabilities (LD) are defined as a significant gap between a person’s intelligence and the skills the person has achieved at each age.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), LD is a disorder that affects people’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear, or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways – as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read or write, or to do math.

Of course, parents with an LD child want to do everything possible to help their child. But, according to Melinda Rainey, M.D., a board certified pediatric ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, there is a big misconception about LD that parents should be aware of. According to Dr. Rainey, “There is a common misconception that learning disabilities are caused by problems with the eyes. However, LD is far more complex. The eyes are simply the camera and the film. They cannot interpret the images. The ‘camera and film’ must be in good working order, but the actual learning problems occur in the association cortex of the brain. The images can be captured perfectly, but the brain of an LD individual cannot process them properly.”

As parents seek to help their children, they may find out about new treatments that may or may not be scientifically proven, and parents must educate themselves about what treatments are actually effective.

A recent joint statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and American Academy of Ophthalmology states, “No scientific evidence supports claims that the academic abilities of children with learning disabilities can be improved with treatments that are based on 1) visual training, including muscle exercises, ocular pursuit, tracking exercises, or “training” glasses (with or without bifocals or prisms); 2) neurological organizational training (laterality training, crawling, balance board, perceptual training); or 3) colored lenses. These more controversial methods of treatment may give parents and teachers a false sense of security that a child’s reading difficulties are being addressed, which may delay proper instruction or remediation.”

However, some children may have medical eye problems such as misalignment of the eyes and/or focusing problems that may make reading more difficult. If your child complains of headaches, blurred vision or double vision, they should be checked by a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Dr. Rainey suggests that if you suspect your child has a learning disability, you should request a complete physical by their pediatrician for your child to screen for any abnormalities in vision, hearing, or other medical issues. “If everything is normal, and your child is still showing signs of LD, you should request diagnostic evaluations by your child’s school developmental psychologist. Public schools are mandated to comply with this request from a parent. Again, early diagnosis, intervention and remediation is crucial to getting the best care for your child.”

Additionally, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic offers parents a comprehensive informational packet about learning disabilities. If you would like a copy of this packet, please call 713-442-1069 during regular business hours.

About Kelsey-Seybold

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic is Houston's premier multispecialty group practice, founded in 1949 by Dr. Mavis Kelsey in Houston's renowned Texas Medical Center. More than 850 physicians and allied health professionals practice at 40 locations in the Greater Houston area. Kelsey-Seybold offers quality medical care in 65+ medical specialties. The organization operates the largest freestanding Ambulatory Surgery Center in the state of Texas and offers state-of-the-art Varian TrueBeam and Varian Edge radiation therapy technology at a nationally accredited Cancer Center. An accredited Sleep Center, comprehensive laboratory services, advanced imaging and diagnostics, 24 onsite Kelsey pharmacies and one specialty pharmacy, and MyKelseyOnline, a secure web portal, are part of its comprehensive offerings. Kelsey-Seybold partners with major insurers to offer value-based commercial health plans. KelseyCare Advantage, a Medicare Advantage plan offered to Houston-area beneficiaries and affiliated with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, has achieved the coveted 5-out-of-5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid for eight consecutive years.

Kelsey-Seybold has been recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) as the nation’s first accredited Accountable Care Organization and is home to a nationally accredited Breast Diagnostic Center and Endoscopy Center.

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic achieved a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 91. NPS is the global standard for measuring customer loyalty and satisfaction. An NPS score of 70 or higher is considered by industry experts to be "world class" and an indicator of overwhelming customer loyalty.

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