Worried That Your Child Has Dyslexia? A Vision Problem May Be to Blame

Image of a child who has a book open in front of him and appears to be frustrated and tired.

Are you convinced that your son or daughter has dyslexia because he or she reverses letters and numbers? Although the problem can be a symptom of dyslexia, it may also be caused by a vision issue. If the actual cause of the problem isn't identified, your child may suffer unnecessarily for years.

How Can Vision Problems Mimic Dyslexia?

Acuity, the able to see objects clearly, is an important aspect of good vision, but it's not the only factor. When you look at an object, the image is transmitted from the retina, the light-sensing layer at the back of your eye, to your brain via the optic nerve. The brain processes and interprets the images it receives. If there is a problem with your visual processing system, you may not be possible to use your vision effectively, even if you don't need glasses.

Several visual processing issues can cause the problem, including:

  • Irlen Syndrome. The syndrome, also called scotopic sensitivity syndrome, makes it difficult for the brain to process light wavelengths. If your child has Irlen syndrome, numbers or letter may appear abnormal or distorted. Reading words that are printed on a white background can be very uncomfortable due to a hypersensitivity to light. In addition to difficulty reading or writing, children who have Irlen syndrome may also have frequent headaches, eyestrain and fatigue. Problems with depth perception can make participating in sports very challenging.
  • Visual Tracking and Eye Teaming Problems. Children who have visual tracking problems frequently lose their place when they try to read. The problem may occur if your child's eyes don't work well together.
  • Visual Perceptual/Vision Motor Deficit. This vision problem can make schoolwork very frustrating. Vision Perceptual/Vision Motor Deficit affects many aspects of vision, including memory, sequencing, discrimination and spatial relations. If your son or daughter has the deficit, he or she may not be able to recognize letters or numbers or tell the difference between letters or numbers that are similar. Children may also be unable to identify letters or numbers if they're in a different order or format. Letter or numbers are frequently reversed and children may not be able to recognize letters, numbers or objects if they can't see the entire object. Children may also have difficulty with hand-eye coordination.

What Are the Symptoms of Visual Processing Problems?

Behavioral problems at school may actually be an indication that your child has a visual processing problem. When children can't identify letters, copy assignments from the board or do well in a game of kickball at recess, he or she may quickly become frustrated and act out. Other symptoms may include:

  • Rereading the same line or losing his or her place when reading
  • Difficulty completing math problems or differentiating between math symbols
  • Headaches
  • Eyestrain
  • Watery eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Squinting
  • Inability to tell the difference between left and right
  • Double vision
  • Complaints about light or glare when reading
  • Reading comprehension difficulties
  • Trouble writing on lined paper
  • Concentration problems
  • Difficulty recognizing shapes and colors
  • Spacing issues when writing
  • Slow reading speed or avoidance of reading
  • Low self-esteem

How Can I Help My Child?

Most visual processing issues can be improved with vision therapy, a treatment method that improves the way the eyes and brain work together. Vision therapists, optometrists who specialize in treating these complex vision issues, use games and activities, exercises, prisms, filters and other devices designed to help your child make the most of his or her vision.

Activities are age appropriate and designed to capture your child's interest. For example, a young child who has a tracking problem may participate in an activity that uses multi-matrix blocks. The small colored blocks feature numbers, letters, shapes and a series of dots. Asking a child to flip over the blocks to display the dotted sides can help improve his or her ability to scan words. Your child's vision therapist may also recommend strategies that can make reading at school easier, such as using color overlays over papers to decrease glare.

Vision therapy offers an effective way to help your child improve his or her performance at school and in sports. Contact us to find out how we can help your son or daughter.


Understood: The Difference Between Dyslexia and Visual Processing Issues


Irlen: What is Irlen Syndrome?


College of Optometrists in Vision Development: Forward Progress from Backward Letters, 8/5/16


Learning Disabilities Association of America: Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit


Understood: Understanding Visual Processing Issues



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