woes caused by vision disorder
help me get the word out about a common condition that severely affects
children's ability to succeed in school because it inhibits reading, spelling
daughter, who was obviously bright, tested at first-grade reading level in fifth
grade. She had undergone all the school testing for learning disabilities, plus
two days of testing at a respected university hospital. None of these tests or
specialists revealed what could be wrong with her.
child's self-esteem suffered. Her confidence faltered; she began acting out in
school. At home she was a great kid, until it came time for schoolwork. Then the
battles began. She thought she was dumb. When studying, she could read for only
a very short time. She often begged me to read things to her. When working on
spelling and assigned to rewrite the words she missed five times, she often
recopied them wrong. We thought she just wasn't trying.
much research on the Internet, I came across a disorder called "convergence
insufficiency disorder." This visual condition is the leading cause of
eyestrain. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to have her tested at the Mayo
Clinic, where her condition was confirmed, and she was successfully treated with
was as though a miracle had occurred. After six months of treatment, my daughter
is almost at her age-appropriate reading level. Her comprehension and retention
have markedly increased, and her self-esteem and attitude about reading are much
with this condition will not benefit from tutoring, special education or extra
help from teachers until the condition is diagnosed and treated. My child had
20/20 vision and still had this disorder. It's not routinely checked with eye
exams, and schools don't test for it.
suspect that many children out there are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and going
untreated. The treatment for convergence insufficiency disorder is noninvasive,
effective, and much of it can be done at home. Please help me get the word out
so other families won't have to go through what we experienced. -- Angie W. in
am pleased to help you get the word out to other families whose children are
struggling to learn. After reading your letter, I contacted my experts at the
Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and was informed that this problem, where the
eyes drift too much inward (or outward) in attempting to focus, can also be
present in adults.
symptoms can include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, sleepiness and
trouble retaining information when reading. Other symptoms associated with
convergence insufficiency include a "pulling" sensation around the
eyes, the rubbing or closing of one eye when reading, words seeming to
"jump" or "float" across the page, needing to reread the
same line of words, frequent loss of place, general inability to concentrate and
short attention span.
good news is: Vision exercises can fix the problem in most cases, some done at
home and some performed in-office with a vision therapist. Prism glasses are
another option; however, they are more often prescribed for adults with this
disorder than for children.
Going Binocular: Susan's First
National Public Radio, Morning
Edition, June 26, 2006
story begins with a chance conversation. Susan Barry, professor of
neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College, was at a party when she happened to
bump into Dr. Oliver Sacks. Sacks is a polymath. He's a physician and an
author (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Awakenings).
His work has been turned into plays (one by Harold Pinter), short stories and
movies (Robin Williams played him). He is also a marathon swimmer, a lover of
ferns — and, as it happens, he is fascinated by stereoscopy.
is the ability to perceive depth and space. So instead of seeing something as
flat, in two dimensions, when you see in stereo you see it in three
dimensions. Some people find stereovision completely fascinating. So
because Dr. Sacks has this enthusiasm, he was intrigued at the party when
Susan Barry mentioned that she had been born cross-eyed. The problem
wasn't surgically treated until she was past her second birthday.
that two-year pause was crucial, because when she got to college, Barry
learned that if baby cats or baby monkeys are cross-eyed during infancy, their
eyes don't learn to work together and therefore their binocular brain cells
don't develop and they lose the chance to see in stereo. The loss is
forever, and what happens to baby cats, the professor said, happens to baby
me?" Barry wondered. She never imagined that she saw differently
from other kids. But after the professor raised the question, Barry got
herself tested and discovered she was indeed monocular. She could not
see depth or space the way the rest of us do.
she told Oliver Sacks. She also told Sacks that she didn't think she was
missing very much, not seeing in stereo. And that's when Sacks leaned in
really close and said, "Do you think you can imagine what it's like to
see the world with two eyes?"
miracles do happen. Barry found out what it's like. And she wasn't imagining.
the approach of Barry's 50th birthday, Barry met Dr. Theresa Ruggiero, an
optometrist who specializes in vision therapy. Barry started a vision
therapy program and will never forget the astonishing moment some months later
when against all expectations, her vision suddenly — after a half century
— popped into 3-D. You can hear her amazing account of this moment on
National Public Radio Morning Edition website by clicking
here. Barry's vision is also the subject of an Oliver Sacks essay in
the New Yorker magazine. For an abstract, click
experience, it turns out, is not unique. Apparently other people have spent
their lives with visual deficits expected to last forever and, through vision
therapies suggested by their eye doctors, they say they have gotten back some
of the sense they had lost.
especially fascinating about all these stories is they suggest that brains are
more "plastic" — more changeable and repairable in adulthood —
than many scientists and doctors had thought.
long time, leading neuroscientists taught that there is a brief "critical
period" in infancy when a baby brain can rewire itself and change; when
that period ends, change stops.
follow that if you are born cross-eyed and do nothing about it until you are 2
years old, you can never learn to see in stereo. Barry's story (and the others
if they prove to be true) suggest that while baby brains are more malleable
than adult brains, adult brains are not frozen in place.
change. Barry's did.