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ADHD and Vision Problems

ADHD is one the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children. Vision problems can commonly be misdiagnosed as behavioral disorders such as ADHD. This is because a child with reduced visual skills may find it difficult to keep up with reading, reading comprehension and writing at their grade level. These children often have a short attention span and daydream in the classroom because their visual system is only able to function effectively for a few seconds or minutes after which they experience symptoms such as blurred vision, double vision, fatigue or headaches.

This often confuses parents who have a hard time understanding why their child is struggling in school despite having “20/20” vision. Eventually, many of these children get misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders such as ADHD when the root cause of their poor attention and concentration is their vision that can be treated by Vision Therapy. 

Since children often do not know the difference between “normal” and “abnormal” vision, a child with reduced visual skills will not complain of any visual difficulties but instead may avoid reading or schoolwork altogether because their vision is uncomfortable, or it requires extra effort for them to focus or keep reading material clear and comfortable longer than a few seconds. This may lead them to rush through assignments to avoid any eyestrain, double vision or headaches leading them to make careless mistakes which can impact their academic performance. 

A higher incidence of vision problems has been found in children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

15 out of 18

symptoms are common between vision problems and ADD/ADHD

1 in 10

children have a vision problem significant enough to affect their learning in school (approximate number)

Important visual skills required for reading and learning

A person requires 17 visual skills to succeed in reading, learning, sports, and in life. Problems with any of these skills can masquerade as ADHD. Children require the following important visual skills for reading and learning:

This is the ability of both eyes to look steadily at a stationary object such as a word on a page. Poor fixation would lead to the child often losing their place when reading.

This is the ability of our eyes to move together across a line of print at the same rate. If unable to do so, the child will skip words when reading and have a tendency to use a ruler or finger to help guide them when they are reading or writing.

This is the ability of our eyes to make the print on a page clear and keep it clear for a sustained period of time. It also involves keeping our vision clear when shifting focus from near print on a page to far print, for example when copying from the board in the classroom. A child with poor accommodation skills will get blurry vision, eyestrain and headaches when reading. They also often report that print moves around on the page when they are reading.

This important skill is required to make and keep print on a page single and preventing it from splitting into two (i.e. double vision). It requires the eyes to work as a team and if they are unable to do that, then the child gets double vision when reading, skips words, gets headaches and sometimes tilts their head when reading.

This is the child’s ability to use their higher-level brain functioning centres to make sense out of what is being read. This helps with areas such as reading comprehension, science and math.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If your child prefers to have someone read to them while they sit and listen for a long period of time but struggles to maintain the same level of attention and concentration when they themselves are reading or doing homework, then the cause of their short attention span is likely a vision problem and not a behavioral problem. Children with vision dysfunctions often have a short attention span, poor concentration and easily get frustrated and distracted when performing near tasks such as reading and homework. As a result, they end up struggling needlessly in school and their behavior gets mislabelled as unmotivated, lazy, learning disabled or ADHD. Vision problems like these do not resolve on their own and require treatment to avoid any impact on the child’s academic, social and sports performance. 

    If you suspect that your child may have a functional vision problem, it is important to book them in for a Vision Therapy Assessment exam at Vision Therapy Centre, which is different from their routine annual eye examination. A Vision Therapy Assessment is a thorough functional vision and visual information processing examination with our board-certified Developmental Optometrist, Dr. Palki Arora, that thoroughly assesses the child’s functional vision and visual information processing.

Definitely. If a child is struggling with reading, learning or school performance, it is important to find out the root cause of their struggles and since 80% of our school-based learning is visual, vision plays a key role in learning and education. Thus, eliminating an underlying vision problem should be one of the first steps. Efforts such as tutoring or extra reading time at home are not as effective when the underlying vision problem is not corrected.

The goal of vision therapy is to help children achieve their vision’s maximum potential. Some children have the ability and intelligence level to excel in school but are held back by the inadequacies of their visual system such that even if they want to be able to read books for hours at a time, they are unable to do so because their vision becomes uncomfortable after reading only a few pages. Vision Therapy is a clinically proven treatment method that strengthens the child’s eye to brain connections so that their visual system has the capability to take on all levels of academic load. Vision Therapy is backed by research and has played a key role in improving the lives of children and adults for generations. 

Book an Appointment

Schedule a Vision Therapy Assessment with our board-certified developmental optometrist, Dr. Arora, for a thorough assessment of your visual skills and visual processing speed.