Reading Skills: Best Bet for Successful Students
In the United States, August is National Children’s Vision and Learning Month. Each year, both kids and their parents prepare for the coming school year. As the summer winds down, all across North America, people are shopping for school supplies, new backpacks and new shoes.
Parents expect and hope their kids will do well in school; academic success is crucial for a child’s future, both in terms of choices they may be able to make later in life and in psychological and emotional well-being while they are still students
Good Readers Make Good Students
It all begins with reading, probably the single most important skill taught in the primary grades. Sometimes, even the brightest of children have trouble with it because of undiagnosed and unsuspected vision problems.
A good reader, one who can easily interpret the materials he studies, is set to become a life-long learner, someone who can take this amazing and supposedly simple task, reading, and get a lifetime of pleasure and information from it.
How many children are reading below their grade level? The answer varies, depending on which studies you believe, but parents would agree that if their child is one of them, the issue is important to them. It’s hard to believe, but most parents never consider their children’s vision as something that should be examined before they start school.
Various vaccinations are required in most locations before a child enters first grade, and prospective middle school and high school athletes are not allowed to practice or compete in football before they get a physical checkup. Why, then, are children sent to school without a vision examination, when vision is widely viewed as the most important of our five senses?
Children are often misdiagnosed as hyperactive, dyslexic or being labeled as having a learning disability, when the real problem was that their eyes weren’t tracking properly together. Children who have difficulty reading will sometimes act out, become bored or just get frustrated when they can’t stay with the lesson along with others in their classroom. It just makes sense to evaluate their eye teaming, tracking and focusing skills before they start school.
Unfortunately, some children even have undiagnosed refractive errors such as being farsighted, nearsighted, or with astigmatism, all of which cause blurred vision. The reason parents often don’t realize that their kids need their vision tested is that most kids don’t complain about not being able to see. A child thinks everyone sees the way he does.
School Screenings: An Unnecessary Evil
According to data from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), school vision screenings catch only about 5% of all vision problems among preschoolers and first graders. The flip side of that statistic is that 95% of children who have vision problems will pass a school vision screening. Vision screenings are notorious among eyecare practitioners for missing even the most obvious problems, giving parents and teachers the idea that if the child passed the screening test, that there can’t be a vision problem. An argument could be made that school vision screenings should not be done at all, because of the false sense of security they give to both parents and teachers that a child’s vision has been ruled out as a cause of any difficulties in learning to read.
20/20 Isn’t Everything
Parents are often advised by pediatricians and even some medical eye doctors that their child’s vision is “normal” because the child demonstrates an ability to interpret shapes or letters 20 feet away. But does clear distance acuity (clarity) really indicate that the eyes are not the problem? Parents should keep in mind that most children hold reading material less than 15 inches away from their faces, so there is a large gap in just this one area which could explain a lot of reading problems. Yet, both types of medical specialists have claimed that, as long as the child can see the eye chart twenty feet away clearly, his vision has nothing to do with any reading difficulties.
How is this possible? When one stops to think about it, it seems obvious that reading well depends on the eyes focusing, aiming, and tracking across a page. Hannu Laukkanen, OD, MEd., FAAO, and Chief of Vision Therapy Services at Pacific University College of Optometry, states that the one visual skill which has the most effect on reading is convergence insufficiency, an inability to aim the eyes together at a page of print. Lacking this one visual skill, or lacking the ability to maintain correct aiming over time, has huge implications for a child’s reading skills. The letters may be clear, but the child may reverse them, reverse their order, or misread the words they make.
Other children may have difficulty tracking accurately across a line of print and end up re-reading a line or skipping one, which tends to scramble the information and make it difficult to comprehend.
Improving Visual Skills is the Key
A specialist in vision is a parent’s best choice to do the testing that is necessary to determine the presence or absence of poor visual skills, according to well-informed educators. If your child has an eye infection, the best place for him would be the office of a medical eye doctor, an ophthalmologist. If he has a sore throat, or a broken arm, his pediatrician would be a natural first choice of doctors to see him. If he has trouble reading, or even learning how to read, he belongs in the office of a specialist in vision, an optometrist who looks at the skills needed to read well and can recommend vision therapy exercises which target the exact problem.
In most school districts, the very first year of school is kindergarten, where a child gets his first lessons in how to be a student; he learns to listen to the teacher and cooperate with others; he learns how to learn. In the first three primary grades, he learns his letters and his first words, and learns to associate the sounds of the letters with their shapes and the words they form. He is learning how to read. In the fourth grade and beyond, he can then use his reading skills to learn other subjects.
That’s why early intervention and early diagnosis of reading problems is so important; by the time the child struggles to read for three years, and then is asked to use a skill he already finds difficult, he has already experienced failure at the most important thing he will ever do, which is to read easily and skillfully.
Making an appointment for a vision examination for each child may be the single most important part of getting ready for the new school year that parents can do. We all wish for the best for our children and there is nothing else he or she needs for school more than good visual skills, which lead to good readers, which lead to a brighter future.