Why Millions of Learning-Disabled Children Are Misdiagnosed
Wendy Beth Rosen
The title of this book would not be surprising if it was written by a behavioral optometrist, but Wendy Beth Rosen is an educator who became very upset about the lack of knowledge about vision and learning amongst educators, health-care and related professionals, and parents. She spent two years researching this book which does an excellent job of presenting the research and explaining the costs to our children and society of continuing to ignore this information. She understands that the problem starts with the simplified misunderstanding of vision which makes “vision” easier to understand but is inaccurate and misleading. “Eyesight is the physiological ability to receive input through the eyes. Vision is the ability to understand what the input is.” Vision is not simple. Consider the following:
“To fully grasp the reality of how the root cause of a child’s struggles may be incorrectly diagnosed, consider that fifteen out of the eighteen symptoms linked with AD/HD are also associated with a vision disorder. Thirteen out of the seventeen symptoms of dyslexia can occur with a vision-based learning problem. It is crucial to be aware that no matter how much intervention children get in the form of special education or medication, they will continue to struggle with learning unless their visual disorders are identified and corrected. In cases where there may be multiple disabilities playing out, the visual piece is so enormously influential that to disregard it will reduce the effectiveness of other therapies.”
“Learning-related vision problems are categorized into two areas: visual efficiency skills and visual information processing. Visual efficiency includes the means by which the eyes physically take in information – through the systems of acuity, focus accommodation, vergence, and oculomotility. Visual information processing engages those functions in the brain that are of greater complexity. These skills essentially allow for a person to make sense of what he or she is seeing and derive meaning from it.”
“When the eyes are not able to move steadily along a line of print due to the inability to automatically maneuver eye movements, tracking difficulties will occur. Precise motions enable us to move through a text, stopping long enough on a word to decode and grasp its meaning. Simultaneously, our peripheral vision is scoping out what lies ahead, preparing us to move forward and take in new information. It’s a delicate dance composed of calibrated jumps and pauses that should flow effortlessly. When eye muscles are not able to control their movements accurately, however, the result is a loss of efficiency and slowed comprehension. Children will often lose their place or skip words and have to go back and reread the text because these interdependent vision systems are not coordinating properly to allow them to read smoothly. Fatigue and frustration set in.”
“Focusing problems cause an array of discomforts for children. This skill allows us to quickly shift our focus from near to far distances smoothly. It also involves the ability to hold our focus for an extended period of time, as when we read. In a classroom, this is a way of life. Children who cannot shift their focus efficiently will have a hard time keeping up in school, as they are required to move their eyes from the board to their desk, back and forth, frequently. When reading, they may not have the stamina to hold their focus.”
“Standards by themselves are not a bad thing. It’s when they are set out with inappropriate expectations that they can wreak havoc. ‘There’s nothing wrong with standards or goals, per se. It makes sense to establish a certain level of mastery for children to achieve, and to determine what students should be able to do and know over the course of a particular period of time – a school year, for example,’ writes education consultant and author Rae Pica. ‘But the standards should be realistic. It should be possible for the majority of students to achieve them, each at her or his own pace. That means the standards must also be developmentally appropriate and based on the principles of child development – designed with actual children in mind.’ In glaring contradiction to this logic, Pica points out that there are a combined total of ninety reading and math standards for kindergarten under the new Common Core. All kindergarteners are expected to read according to these standards. She also reveals that of the 135 committee members who wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards for K – 3, not one of them was a K – 3 educator or professional with expertise in childhood development.”
“There is overwhelming evidence challenging the myth that homework improves academic performance, raises test scores, or improves learning. Alfie Kohn quotes this statement released by the American Educational Research Association decades ago: ‘Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents. Additionally, he states that no study has ever confirmed the belief that homework generates nonacademic benefits, such as perseverance, independence, self-discipline, and time management skills – tools so critical for success. Furthermore, less positive attitudes toward school and learning are present in kids who get more assignments.”
“As skill requirements have trickled down to lower and lower grade levels, the innate developmental stages that children progress through are being ignored. Social, emotional, and physical developmental needs are receiving less attention because there is a greater emphasis on academics. We know better. This will only cause bigger problems for children as they progress through school without building these skills, so necessary for success in all areas of life, at the appropriate time in the scope of their education.”
“We tend to think of vision and visual functioning as a local task. ‘Vision is a very complex phenomenon, with only a small percentage (less than five percent) of the process taking place in the eyes. The other ninety-five percent of vision takes place in the brain from association with touch, hearing, and proprioception,’ explains Dr. Carla Hannaford.”
“’The child is more than a score,’ declared Dr. Arnold Gesell. These words ring in our minds today in ways he probably could not even have imagined. If we push our kids to take on tasks before they are developmentally ready, the need for special services to fix the damage later on will only increase.”
“When it comes to learning, there is no justification for ‘shoulds’. One cannot force a child to learn. ‘We can only create an environment that encourages and motivates learning,’ points out Dr. Linda Tamm.”
This is the challenge. When educational standards go along with the assumption in our society that faster and more are better, how do we buck the tide for our children? The total experiences of childhood, not just academics, are important for development. Visual skills are but one example. Despite parents’ observations of their children and their intuitions, the pressure to conform is great. They, too, are swept up in the rush. Electronic technology, for all of its benefits, has exacerbated this. It is easy to forget that many skills take time and rehearsal to develop and that too much pressure can interfere.
There are countless examples of professionals being wrong. A powerful, early example for me was that our high school, just outside New York City, did not have sports teams for girls. Girls were thought to not be competitive and sports were not good for their young bodies. I am writing this as the Olympics are taking place. This is just one of many examples that we should not forget.
It is clear that what we are doing is not working for many children. They may be performing as well as their parents were a generation ago but they are behind. Do we really think that children have advanced a whole year in development in one generation? Do we think that they learn better when they are being pushed and are not having fun and experiencing satisfaction? There is ample evidence that attempting to push development in certain areas actually interferes with over-all development. This harm is unnecessary and yet we persist. Without swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, it is time to give more attention to children, the many skills that they will need to be happy and successful in life, and how those skills develop.
Science, experience, and common sense tell us that we do not all develop at the same speed or at equal speeds in all areas (or that the world would be a better place if we were all the same). Flexible standards can be developed that are commensurate with the ranges of development of different skills. Educational standards and inflexibility should not cause normal children to be unsuccessful due to variations in their pace of development. Why should it be necessary to be identified with special needs? Remember, many children take longer to learn how to ride a bike and yet become equally adept in the long-run if they don’t become discouraged and quit.