Most people are familiar with ADHD, but fewer with convergence insufficiency. What is the connection? While it is a fact that learning-related vision problems are not learning disabilities, they can be comorbid with each other, and some are more commonly found together.
Convergence insufficiency is when the eyes have trouble working together to focus on a near object. People who suffer from convergence insufficiency will often have difficulty focusing and reading for extended periods due to the strain on their eyes. Convergence insufficiency is separate from simple 20/20 vision, and, in fact, one can both have 20/20 vision and convergence insufficiency.
Someone suffering from convergence insufficiency, in addition to having trouble generally concentrating on up-close tasks such as reading, writing, or drawing, will oftentimes exhibit other symptoms such as eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches. You will likely notice that they read slowly, may read the same line repeatedly or lose their place entirely, and they may have trouble remembering what they have read.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is generally known as a condition in which someone both has extreme trouble focusing and displays excess energy, making it harder to sit still in places such as the classroom. ADHD is classified as a developmental disorder, but it very often results in difficulty learning.
Children with ADHD will also have difficulty focusing on tasks, and, while reading, are also likely to read more slowly and lose their place often. Additionally, children with ADHD can have difficulty remembering what they have read. In both cases as well, frustration at the difficulty with reading can lead to fidgeting and a more visible inability to pay attention
Due to the fact that both convergence insufficiency and ADHD make it harder to focus on tasks for extended periods of time (there is no small amount of overlap between their respective list of symptoms), and the fact that ADHD is a much more well-known condition, children with convergence insufficiency can be misdiagnosed as having ADHD.
These results are another indication that at least some of these children might not need ADHD medication if their convergence insufficiency was properly diagnosed and treated.
At present, however, there is not a complete consensus on whether ADHD and convergence insufficiency are closely related, or if the higher prevalence of ADHD diagnoses is simply due to convergence insufficiency being a less well known condition.
There is also no evidence that either disorder causes the other. Although, as was already mentioned, they are often found together.
If your child is having attention issues in the classroom or while doing homework, and if there is reason to suspect they have an attention disorder or a learning disorder, make sure to also get your child a developmental eye exam by our optometrist. If a vision issue is discovered, our eye doctor will be able to make recommendations on treatment. It is generally advisable to attempt to treat a vision issue which may be the cause of the attention difficulties before resorting to medication for ADHD. In addition to a proper diagnosis of convergence insufficiency potentially saving your child from receiving treatment for the wrong disorder, the stigma of having a learning disorder is something best avoided--especially if the child does not actually have one.
Vision therapy is an effective method for treating convergence insufficiency, though it will not help an ADHD patient unless they also have a vision issue. Vision therapy treatment includes numerous exercises designed to train the patient to use their eyes more efficiently and ensure that the entire visual system is functioning as it should. Vision therapy treatment is highly individualized based on the needs of the patient, so that they can achieve the best possible outcome.