Does your child have trouble reading? Does he rub his eyes or pull at his eye lids after reading for a bit? Does he shy away from reading later in the day? Schedule an in-depth eye exam with an eye doctor that will take time to listen to you and your child.
I write this story as a mother who has and continues to walk on this path. Our son, Little Buddy, was reading at the appropriate levels for his age, this was the summer before Kindergarten. He was an outgoing, energetic, loving little boy. He loved words. He loved stories. He loved to hear the same stories over and over again. He also loved for me to read the book to him before he read the book to me. Little did I know, he wasn’t really reading it to me. He was reciting it.
He only wanted to read to me. Not to anyone else. And never in front of his class. I just thought he was shy.
We discovered why accidentally, but I’m sure it was no accident at all. My son went with my Mother one morning for her annual eye exam. As he was sitting patiently with her, he asked the doctor to check his eyes. Now, I had just taken him two months prior to our pediatrician for his well check up and he had undergone the pediatrician’s vision and hearing exams. His vision was 20/20 with no problems found. As a side note, his hearing was stellar as well.
This day, the eye doctor either had plenty of time or was just entertaining a 4 year old and agreed to check his eyes. Little Buddy hopped up in the seat and the exam went fine. Again, he tested as 20/20 vision. All through the eye exam, the doctor and Little Buddy were talking about what all Little Buddy liked to do – sports, playing outside, etc. The eye doctor asked him if he liked to read. Little Buddy’s answer was, “Yes, but sometimes the words jump off the page.”
What? Never had he told any of us this. We read every day and never once had he mentioned that the words looked different or moved or anything strange. But strange to me would not have been strange to him, I now know.
Thankfully, my Mother called me at work and I hurried to the doctor’s office. The eye doctor waited until I arrived and then continued the exam.
Little Buddy was diagnosed with convergence insufficiency. In layman’s terms, convergence insufficiency is a weakness of the eye muscles that are used to hold the eyes in a converged or near vision required position.
According to Cooper, J, Cooper, R. Conditions Associated with Strabismus: Convergence Insufficiency, symptoms of convergence insufficiency include:
– covering of one eye while reading or doing close vision activities
– pulling at eye while reading or doing close vision activities
– sleepiness while/ after reading or doing close vision activities
– inability to concentrate for long periods of time
– feeling of motion sickness
– blurred vision or moving of words on the page
We also found that Little Buddy was unable to cross his eyes. I had always been so proud that he had never picked up this childish habit.
According to Michael J Bartiss, OD, MD, the incidence of convergence insufficiency has been reported as 3-5% of the population of the United States. The same percentage has been reported internationally. The diagnosis is rare in children younger than 10 years of age. This is largely due to communication skills with physicians in younger children and an increased need for close work by children 10 years and older, according to Dr. Bartiss.
Luckily, vision therapy and home therapy are remarkable in the treatment of convergence insufficiency. Basically, the child builds his eye muscles through repeated exercises to make the eye muscles stronger and stronger. This allows the eye to hold in a converged or near vision position for longer periods of time without straining.
Through early diagnosis, treatment, and education, Little Buddy is now reading above his actual grade level. He also loves to read to anyone who will listen.
We know that we are the lucky ones that discovered the issue by accident and received wonderful care. We work closely with Little Buddy to make sure he does not strain his eyes through reading very small text or playing hand-held video games for extended periods.
I am also proud to say, Little Buddy now can cross his eyes and I love this childish habit more than I could ever have dreamed.
While I fully disclose that I am not a medical doctor, nor do I have any training as an eye specialist, I deeply encourage anyone whose child has trouble reading or displays any of the symptoms mentioned above to request a binocular vision exam by your eye doctor.