Does Your Child Have ADHD? The Real Problem May Be Their Vision

ADHD is a common diagnosis among children today, but what if what you think if an attention problem can actually be attributed to your child’s vision? While most cases of ADHD are genuine, in some situations an undiagnosed vision problem may be contributing to your child’s lack of focus, behavioral, and learning difficulties. That’s why it’s important to have a complete eye exam before moving forward with ADHD treatment.

Understanding ADHD

ADHD is characterized by a range of issues, including impulsive behavior, difficulty listening to and following directions, disorganization, and hyperactivity, and is often associated with other conditions ranging from dyslexia to epilepsy. To some, the core characteristics may just sound like the way children behave, but parents and doctors understand that while these difficulties are part of developing self-regulation skills as children grow up, those with ADHD are impacted more significantly and struggle to develop these skills on an age-appropriate timeline. Failure to address these symptoms early can also have long term effects on academic achievement.

Vision Issues And ADHD

Based on the core criteria for the condition, it may seem odd to add vision to the equation, but there are good reasons to consider their potential impact on focus, impulse control, and other behaviors. First, it’s important to note that the vision problems mistaken for ADHD are rarely things like myopia – nearsightedness – that we think of first in this context. While a nearsighted child may struggle due to the inability to see the board well or read without developing a headache, their overall processing typically is unaffected.

No, in children with ADHD, the vision problems doctors identify tend to be things like poor “eye teaming skills.” Eye teaming is essentially what it sounds like; the eyes need to work together in order for us to see clearly and process well. When our eyes aren’t synchronized, it can be hard to look at words on a page or a ball flying through the air. It’s easy for a child to seem distracted when in reality they physically can’t focus their vision on surrounding stimuli.

Core Problems: Convergence Insufficiency

One of the most common forms that eye teaming problems take is known as convergence insufficiency. What this means is that the eyes struggle to focus on the same point, with one or both eyes tending to drift when focusing. Convergence insufficiency may require vision therapy to treat or may be improved using an eye patch or other vision aid.

The main reason that doctors miss vision problems in children suspected of having ADHD is that children may suffer from poor eye teaming, convergence insufficiency, or other vision problems but still have 20/20 vision. Since most vision tests are meant exclusively to test for near- or farsightedness, however, these tests are limited in value when it comes to looking for other vision problems.

If your child is being evaluated for an ADHD diagnosis, be sure to ask about a vision assessment. Just as many parents and doctors choose to test theories about sugar or gluten intake or consumption of food dyes in relation to ADHD symptoms, vision therapy may also play a role in improving your child’s focus and behavior.