A new study from the U.K. universities of Bristol and Newcastle found no connection between vision problems and dyslexia, a learning disability that causes reading difficulties. The research, published May 25 in the journal Pediatrics, supports earlier findings that eye training and vision therapies such as the use of colored lenses and overlays and eye exercises are not effective treatments for the disorder.
“Some practitioners feel that vision impairments may be associated with dyslexia and should be treated. However, our study results show that the majority of dyslexic children have entirely normal vision on the tests we used,” lead author Cathy Williams, PhD, FRCOphth, a lecturer in child visual development at the University of Bristol, told the Daily Mail.
For the study, researchers tested 5,822 children ages 7 and 8 who took part in the Children of the 90s study, a large investigation of the health of children in southwest England. The children were tested for a variety of vision problems, including lazy eye, nearsightedness, farsightedness, 3D vision, and fusion – the ability to compose a single picture from two slight different images from each eye.
Each child was given a reading assessment at age 9. Findings showed that 172 children (3 percent) had severe dyslexia and 479 (8 percent) had a moderate form of the disorder. Of critical importance was the finding that 80 percent of the children with dyslexia did not have vision problems.
“Our findings may reassure families that their child’s sight is very unlikely to be affecting their reading ability, assuming the need for glasses has been ruled out, and so they can pursue other options for supporting their child,” co-author Alexandra Creavin, MBChB, a research fellow in ophthalmic epidemiology and pediatric ophthalmology at the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine, told the Daily Mail.
Walter Fierson, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist and co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on learning disabilities, including dyslexia, agrees. Fierson told HealthDay that previous research showed there are differences in the brain among children with dyslexia compared to children without the disorder. He said other researchers found the disability has to do with how kids process letters and sounds, not with how they perceive letters and words in the first place.
“To date, the best techniques for the remediation of dyslexia involve intensive one-on-one – or at least small group – teaching by phonetic methods by experienced teachers,” Fierson said.
Fierson advised parents to seek an initial evaluation by a neuropsychologist or educational psychologist to determine the specific problem areas experienced by poor readers. He also warned against unsubstantiated promises of “cures.”
“Parents should avoid unproven quick fixes and go for intensive phonics,” said Fierson. “As is usually the case, things that seem to be too good to be true usually are. This includes vision treatments for dyslexia.”