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.