Vision deficits can mimic and/or contribute to behaviors observed in children with ADD and ADHD. The classic symptoms of attention disorders are hyperactivity, an inability to focus, poor impulse control, task avoidance and disruptive behaviors. In order to diagnose these conditions, the medical practitioner looks at a series of subjective markers. Medicines are given to treat the symptoms, but they do not cure the cause.

Data shows that about 4-12% of school aged children have ADHD. In addition, 20% of students in schools have visual problems that contribute to disruptive behaviors. It is estimated that 25% of students have visual problems that affect their ability to learn. These kids may not all demonstrate poor behavior, but they may struggle with task completion and poor attention.

What Is It Like to Have Visual Deficits When You Are a Student?

  • You find close up tasks confusing.
  • You can’t pay attention to details.
  • You are challenged by organizational tasks.
  • Words on a page appear blurry.
  • The lines on the paper seem to move or jump up.
  • You try to read, but you lose your place on the page.
  • You see everything blurry. It has always been that way, so you don’t know any better.
  • Although you get enough sleep, you’re often tired at school or when you do homework.
  • You feel dizzy, or nauseous, because words, lines, shapes move around too much.
  • You cannot read properly. When you try, it taxes your system so much you cannot sustain it.
  • It takes you longer than your classmates to realize what color is in front of you.
  • It’s easier to look out the window than at the blackboard.
  • School is boring because you can’t do the work anyway. So you wiggle, get up, and try to get your classmates’ attention.
  • Your teacher finds your behavior disruptive, or complains that you daydream excessively.
  • You feel different, not as smart as the other kids.
  • It’s so hard to concentrate. You get frequent headaches, and eye strain.
  • Doing your homework takes you a long time.
  • You are unaware that you avoid work as a coping strategy.

The basic vision test commonly used in a doctor’s office or in school does not screen for the type of visual challenges that can contribute to a child’s poor behavior and learning difficulties. Children can test 20/20 on a vision test and still have problems with eye focusing, eye movement, eye teaming (convergence), as well as color and visual discrimination.

Some of our young clients have convergence issues. As a matter of fact, children on the spectrum, or with sensory processing challenges, often have motor coordination difficulties which may also affect the way their eyes work together.

CDI’s occupational therapists look at a child’s performance while he does a variety of tasks. We look for signs of problems such as poor eye-hand coordination, misalignment of both eyes, poor depth perception, clumsiness and more. If we suspect a problem we will recommend a full evaluation by a developmental ophthalmologist. However, children who were born with visual issues often have developed coping strategies that make it hard for others to identify these challenges. Since behaviors can be an indicator,  any child with developmental challenges should also be evaluated for underlying visual difficulties. Experts recommend that all children with developmental delays be seen by a pediatric ophthalmologist,  especially before being diagnosed and medicated for ADD or ADHD.

Many visual deficits are easier to treat when caught early. Please speak with your doctor and your CDI therapy team for more information about the visual challenges associated with ADD/ADHD behaviors.