Teachers and administrators now need to be more creative in order to help their students succeed. This may include challenging previous concepts regarding vision and learning.
Two educators from New Jersey have shed some light on why teachers and administrators across the U.S. are rethinking their model of vision and how it relates to learning. Many students with attention problems, learning disabilities, and gifted students that don't achieve to their potential have one thing in common, vision disorders that have contributed to their learning difficulties.
Nicole Moore, Principal of Indian Mills Elementary School, shares, "As a principal who sits on the intervention services committee, we try to do whatever is possible to stop children from needing to be classified for special education services. One of the interventions that parents have told me makes a big difference in their children's ability to read and learn is optometric vision therapy."
"Our district has one of the lowest rates of student classification for special education in the county," Moore continues, "I believe screening and remediation of learning-related vision problems have been a significant factor in reducing the number of children referred for special education services."
Moore credits Barbara Scola, the Director of Pupil Services, for bringing optometric vision therapy to her school as one of the many interventions necessary to help their students.
When asked what prompted Scola to consider that vision might be one of the missing links to helping students learn, she recalled, "I was working on my master's thesis on reading interventions and had the opportunity to work with a student who had excellent comprehension when the material was read to him, but struggled when he tried to read on his own."
As she worked with him she found that he knew his words in isolation, yet when he saw the same words at the beginning of a line in a paragraph he didn't recognize them because he cut off the first two letters. For example, "Treat yourself to some ice cream" he would read as "Eat yourself to some ice cream." Scola tried teaching him context clues to help it make sense, to force him to go back and look at the beginnings of the words, but it was laborious.
"This was quite a mystery, so I started researching to see what it could be. I suspected that his vision might be playing a role, so I started searching for information on learning disabilities and vision. And that's what lead me to optometric vision therapy," Scola continued.
Following Scola's recommendation, the mother took her child to an optometrist who had an in-office vision therapy program. After completing optometric vision therapy, he did very well in school.
Once Scola received her Master's Degree in Education Administration, she joined Moore in the Shamong School District as the Director of Pupil Services and began implementing her new strategies. The mother of one of the first children who went through optometric vision therapy was working on her Ph.D. in Reading. Scola had encouraged her to give vision therapy a try, "she did not believe us at all, she thought it was bunk. Even with all of her education she had never heard of it. But her daughter couldn't read, so we said it can't hurt, just try it." And now her daughter is an avid reader and an excellent student thanks to optometric vision therapy.
Some of the most common signs that a pupil may have a learning related vision disorder are:
Homework battles even though the child is bright and may do well in school (because their eyes are tired at the end of the day from straining to focus),
Tilts head or lays head on the desk during reading
Short attention span when reading
Poor reading comprehension
Skips lines, rereads lines
Moore encourages other principals and administrators to "think outside the box when it comes to learning or reading issues; I had never heard of optometric vision therapy before. Now we know what to look for in children with possible vision disorders and with vision therapy we have seen significant changes in these childrens' ability and enjoyment of reading."
Moore and Scola (now the Director of Special Services at Winslow Schools) were delighted to learn that the American Optometric Association responded to President Obama's call to ensure that no child is left behind in the classroom due to an undetected or untreated eye or vision disorder, by holding a School Readiness Summit in Washington, DC. The summit's interdisciplinary work-group - comprising nearly 50 leaders in their respective fields - documented and recognized the established link between healthy vision and classroom learning.
As a result of this Summit, the American Federation of Teachers issued the following statement: "Even the most gifted students will struggle academically if they have trouble seeing the blackboard or focusing on a book. A tremendous amount of learning happens visually, so proper vision care is crucial to helping students reach their full potential."
Scola explains to parents, "It doesn't matter if your child is gifted or not, if vision isn't working right, your eyes don't send the right signals to your brain. It's like having a real high speed computer, but if the keyboard isn't working, you get the wrong information, if any."
Dr. Bradley Habermehl, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) concurs, "We are delighted to see educators, such as Ms. Moore and Ms. Scola, embracing optometric vision therapy. We receive large numbers of thank you letters from parents who were at their wits end, thanking vision therapy for changing the lives of their children."
Please join COVD in this year's campaign for National Children's Vision & Learning Month and visit us at www.COVD.org where you can learn about how vision disorders can cause even the brightest children to struggle with learning.
About COVD - The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) is an international, non-profit optometric membership organization that provides education, evaluation and board certification programs in behavioral and developmental vision care, vision therapy and visual rehabilitation. The organization is comprised of doctors of optometry, vision therapists and other vision specialists. For more information on learning-related vision problems, vision therapy and COVD, please visit www.covd.org or call 888.268.3770.