We hear about dyslexia often enough, but what exactly is it? Is it a vision problem, or something else?
Dyslexia is a relatively well-known learning disability which, in particular, is known to make reading and spelling difficult. Dyslexia is a highly genetic condition, and occurs in the brain, not the eyes. There are multiple types of dyslexia, and it can vary widely in terms of severity. In a nutshell, dyslexia is a problem with visual and auditory matching, a process known as decoding. A problem with how the brain processes information received, and not a problem with how the information gets from the eyes to the brain. Even someone who is visually impaired and reads braille can suffer from dyslexia, as the brain will have trouble processing the information coming from the fingers just as it does the information coming from words scanned by the eyes.
There are several symptoms of dyslexia, and their presentation can vary depending on a child’s age. Delayed speech or other speech issues (such as having difficulty pronouncing long words or jumbling up words or phrases) can be a sign of dyslexia in very young children.
Once a child with dyslexia reaches school age, you are likely to see them having difficulty learning specific sounds and letters, and they will confuse the order of letters in words while reading, writing, and speaking. They might also complain of headaches or dizziness while reading.
They may also have difficulty with reading comprehension, and with visualizing things based on what they have read.
Many of these symptoms are similar to those seen with certain eye issues, but with dyslexia the eyes are not at fault.
There are self-tests available for dyslexia, but proper tests for dyslexia are generally carried out by psychologists, diagnostic specialists, or learning disability specialists, and only they can make an accurate diagnosis.
If a child is exhibiting symptoms that may indicate dyslexia, however, it is advisable to also have their eyes examined so you can make a complete determination regarding the cause of the learning difficulties. Not all optometrists do developmental eye exams, so visiting a doctor who specializes is necessary in order to determine if your child has a brain related vision issue--especially if there are concerns they might have ADHD or a similar disorder..
Additionally, if a child has a vision issue on top of dyslexia, it can exacerbate the symptoms and make things even harder for them.
While dyslexia and some eye problems have common symptoms, dyslexia itself is known to not be an eye issue, and children with dyslexia have the same risk of eye problems as children without it.
Problems with laterality or directionality: Younger children, up to the age of first grade, often have difficulty distinguishing between their right and left (laterality). This is why it’s not uncommon for young children to reverse letters or numbers when they write them, and why they may hold their hands in an “L” shape to determine which is left and which is right. However, by the time they reach the second grade, this vision problem should go away on its own. If it persists, it may be a sign of dyslexia.
Visual Fatigue: Many vision problems can cause visual fatigue, a symptom also seen in dyslexia patients. Vision problems that can cause this problem include intermittent strabismus and convergence insufficiency. In the case of these issues, the fatigue is caused by the effort required to keep their eyes aligned on the task at hand.
Poor Control of Eye Movements: Just like dyslexia, some vision issues can lead to reading difficulties. However, in the case of vision issues, it is due to a mechanical problem with the eye movements required to read smoothly. Children with this problem may also skip small words like “the” and “it” due to their eyes simply missing them. Patients with dyslexia, however, are thought to skip these words because they have trouble visualizing them.
While eye problems are not the cause of dyslexia, any problems that make tasks like reading more difficult will only add to their stress and make learning even more difficult.
Correcting any eye problems will only help make the dyslexia treatment process go more smoothly.