What a School Eye Exam Won't Reveal
Susan Barry: It’s a good idea to see a developmental optometrist and determine whether or not binocular vision issues are impacting your child’s ability to read.
Susan R. Barry, Ph.D., is a professor of neurobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mount Holyoke College. She had been cross-eyed and stereoblind since early infancy but learned to see in three dimensions at age forty-eight by retraining her visual system with optometric vision therapy. Her story was first described by Oliver Sacks in his New Yorker article, Stereo Sue, and then greatly expanded by Sue in her book, Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions. Sue's book challenges the conventional wisdom that the brain is permanently wired for basic perceptual skills during a "critical period" in early childhood and offers instead a revelatory account of the brain's capacity for change.
I think if your child has a problem learning to read in school it’s a very good idea to take them to a developmental optometrist who’s an expert in binocular vision and have their binocular vision tested carefully. Children with binocular vision problems may have trouble learning to read in school.
Probably one child per classroom has a condition called convergence insufficiency where the child uses their eyes great at a distance, but when the eyes are looking at something close, they will look with one eye and turn away the other. This condition is very treatable with optometric vision therapy. And so no child should end up with this condition and let it go undiagnosed and untreated.
If a child has a problem learning to read at school, I really think getting a good binocular vision exam is important. And that is distinguished from the school exam where, think about it, the child looks at an eye chart 20 feet away covering one eye. This has nothing to do with reading, which is an activity that is done with two eyes at a distance of about 16 inches. And so an average school vision screening will not pick up a binocular vision problem. And that’s why it’s a good idea to see a developmental optometrist and determine whether or not binocular vision issues are impacting your child’s ability to read.
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