Vision therapy for dyslexia and reading disorders

The Pediatric Insider

© 2015 Roy Benaroch, MD

Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder—a problem not with intelligence or a lack or trying, but with the ability of children to learn to read. It affects 3-20% of children (depending on the exact definition used). Because reading is essential to school success in almost every subject, problems with reading need to be addressed as early as possible.

One kind of therapy for dyslexia is based on the premise that reading problems are caused by vision problems—though the scientific community isn’t convinced that this is the case. The large, national professional bodies representing pediatricians, ophthalmologists, and optometrists recommend only routine vision screening for children having reading difficulties. Nonetheless, there’s a cottage industry of so-called developmental or behavioral optometrists who offer a variety of services commonly called “vision therapy” to help with reading problems and other developmental challenges. There is very little objective evidence that any of these therapies offer more than short-term improvement. Besides, they’re very expensive, and often not covered by medical or vision insurance. Parents need to know whether this kind of therapy is worth pursuing.

Researchers in the UK published a study in May, 2015, looking at a large number of children in a birth cohort from the early 1990’s. These children had all had thorough serial health assessments as they grew. For this specific study, they found that 3% (172 kids) in the birth cohort of 5822 children met objective criteria for reading impairment. All of these children had a very through vision evaluation, and most of those were completely normal; the small number of reading-disabled kids who weren’t 100% normal on their vision assessment had subtle abnormalities. The authors concluded “We found no evidence that vision-based treatments would be useful to help children with severe reading impairment.”

A strength of the study was that it was population-based—it didn’t just include children referred to a clinic because of problems. And the findings were objective and validated. However, the authors only looked at the most severe level of reading impairment. It’s possible they may have missed vision issues in less-affected children (though one would think, if vision were the root of reading problems, that the worst readers would have the most egregious and easily-identified vision problems.)

This study adds to the weight of evidence that “vision therapy” is unlikely to be useful for reading problems, and may be a waste of time and money.

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3 Comments on “Vision therapy for dyslexia and reading disorders”

  1. Lori L. Says:

    I’m not sure about dyslexia….but my son has amblyopia and we were referred to an eye doctor that did vision therapy. The results were astounding. We were able to retrain his brain to use his bad eye, he couldn’t see 3d at all and now he can, he had no depth perception and now it’s almost perfect, he was a horrible reader, was below grade level and hated it more than anything else, after therapy he went up two levels in reading witihin a couple months and now 5 years later is a voracious reader and is above grade level by two years. (There was so much more- keeping track of where he was on a page, keeping focus when looking up and down from desk to white board, and lots of other issues that people don’t even know can be fixed) I know many don’t know much about vision therapy, but our experience with it have been life altering for our son. (I also have a nephew that was helped tremendously with his reading ability with vision therapy.) I would recommend anyone look into it if their child is struggling to read. Vision is so much more than 20/20.

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  2. wzrd1 Says:

    They could have saved time by studying myself and my wife, we’re both dyslexic.
    My dyslexia was addressed by my doctor and mother via a lot of training over the years.
    My wife’s dyslexia missed by her doctor and by the school district.

    In our youth, our vision was excellent, although I became nearsighted in my teens.

    Dyslexia is a processing disorder, not an eyesight disorder.
    There is a survival benefit to dyslexia, both my wife and I see straight trough camouflage, natural or man made.

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  3. I’m dyslexic and my eyesight is perfect, as far as i can tell. That’s just anecdotal, but my dyslexia has gotten better as i got older and learned to cope. I hated reading as a kid because it was so much effort which took all the fun out it. Now i’m a reasonably fast reader and enjoy reading a lot of pop science books. I still make spelling mistakes when writing, but that’s what spell check is for 😉

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