As a professional optometrist with years of experience and hundreds of patients, it’s fair to say that I am very familiar with dyslexia. A misunderstood condition that is often misdiagnosed, dyslexia can be very hard to identify and recognise, especially in children.
Dyslexia is essentially a learning difficulty, which affects your ability to accurately and fluently read and spell words. A typical characteristic that a person with dyslexia might display is a lack of phonological awareness, that is how well they interpret the structure and sound of written words. They might also have a lower than average processing speed concerning literacy, and a reduced ability to recall perceptual processes from their short term memory. From an optometry point of view, we are more concerned with how it affects the eyes and vision, predominantly how it affects your visual stress.
So how would I go about diagnosing dyslexia in a patient? Technically speaking optometrists don’t necessarily diagnose dyslexia, but we can certainly detect and try to remedy visual problems associated with dyslexia. If you or your child are showing any of the following symptoms, then I urge you to seek consultation as soon as possible. Symptoms can include words and letters going out of focus regularly during reading, words and letters appearing blurred, letters shaking or moving, words appearing backwards, letters that appear as double, constant headaches during or after reading, and also sensitivity to bright screens, lights and glares.
If I believe that you have reading problems that can be linked to dyslexia, then a full sight test and exam will be carried out. This includes a binocular vision assessment and a Wilkins Rate Of Reading assessment, a useful test that can help confirm the presence of visual stress.
So if I believe that you have dyslexia, or that you have visual stress and problems associated with dyslexia, what would be the next course of action? First of all I would recommend what is known as Vision Therapy. This includes personal sessions focusing on puzzles and activities, reading material under certain conditions such as an eye patch over one eye or wearing tinted glasses, and other activities designed to improve visual stress.
There are some exercises that can help with issues such as eye tracking and reading fluency, and these can also be done at home between the therapy sessions. These include focusing on an object moving in a figure 8 direction, repeatedly drawing a large figure 8 on a piece of paper and other exercises. In some cases glasses may then be prescribed to the individual if it is deemed appropriate, which could help with the amount of strain put on the eyes due to the presence of dyslexia. Tinted lenses have also been shown to be of help to certain dyslexia sufferers and will be a considered option.
Unfortunately we as optometrists cannot help with certain aspects of dyslexia, such as phonological and cognitive awareness. However treating vision problems can make reading much more comfortable and effective, and lead to reduced eye strain and visual stress. So if you believe that you or a relative are showing potential signs of dyslexia, ask for a consultation as soon as possible.