My child has normal eyesight and hearing, how can you help?

The majority of students with learning problems have normal eyesight & hearing. This is no guarantee however that they are using their visual and auditory skills normally. For example, a child may be able to read the bottom line on the letter chart (20/20 vision) but only be able to take in a relatively small amount of information per look compared to their peers, or alternatively they may have excellent hearing but struggle to tell the difference between sounds.

Skills such as these relate to visual and auditory development, and are not routinely assessed at school or by most clinicians; consequently they need to be specifically investigated when there is a background of learning problems. The iCept software enables parents or schools to screen for some of the key indicators of visual and auditory development, including eye tracking. If a problem is found they can usually be improved with training. There is scientific evidence to support the view that training these skills improves academic outcomes by removing critical barriers to learning.

How do these problems affect learning?
If a child has poorly developed visual or auditory skills they will have to put in more effort to acheive many of the tasks related to learning. Although it is commonly held that dyslexia is a language based problem – reading begins with vision. Furthermore, in order to decode a word efficiently a student needs to have good listening skills which requires auditory processing.

Will my child out grow these problems?
Like most learned skills visual and auditory development improves with age but whether or not they are considered “normal” depends on how the skills compare with others of the same age group. Taking this into account it is not uncommon for visual and auditory deficits to persist into secondary school or adulthood, although some younger students who perform poorly in the auditory testing  can improve with age. Apart from this special group, in most cases bringing the development up to age normal levels requires the student to specifically attend to the relevant skills.

Who are affected by these visual/auditory deficits?
There are three kinds of students that can be affected:

1) The first is the child with a definite learning disability. That is to say, if the problems are significant enough, this can make it profoundly difficult for some children to progress academically even despite more conventional interventions such as remedial reading.

2) The second is the child that gets by at school. In these cases the child learns to manage the problem and gets by at school but still functions below their capability. These children aren’t bad enough to be flagged by the school for learning support but the parents believe that there is something holding their child back and may struggle to find an adequate explanation. These children learn to depend on their sub-optimal skills and may never develop the visual and auditory skills that they need to become an efficient learner.

3) The third category is the bright child that learns to find a way around the problem by developing exceptional skills in other areas. For example, they may have learned to speed read but have an underlying problem with their eye movement control. Consequently they can read a novel very quickly (and usually with good comprehension) but their capability drops off when they have to read more technical information requiring better eye control as they have not adequately developed the skills for this task.

Do your tests diagnose dyslexia?
No. The tests that we offer are used to help diagnose visual and auditory deficits. The question of dyslexia is considered to be an educational diagnosis.

Can the problems you describe be fixed?
Yes. The problems diagnosed by iCept normally have a development basis to them which means that they are learned skills. Because they are learned they can also be trained.

Will training these skills improve my child’s learning?
Training can make a significant difference because the skills in question are so fundamental to learning. The main caveat to training however is if there is some other over riding deficit that either hinders the skills from being trained (eg. hearing loss) or else masks the benefits of the gains that are made. For this reason it is important to consider all factors that might be contributing towards a learning problem.

Do I need to get my child’s eyes or ears tested first?
An optometry assessment is strongly recommended if multiple visual skills are failed as there may be co-existing problems such as longsightedness, reduced near focusing, difficulty co-ordinating the eyes or visual stress. If your child has passed their school hearing test this should be an adequate basis for auditory training.

Can you recommend an optometrist or audiologist?
Optometrists using iCept or those specializing in children’s vision or behavioural optometry. To find an optometrist in your area click here. If you would like further auditory testing, an audiologist specializing in Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) is recommended.

What about tinted lenses?
There are a group of students who respond very positively to tinted lenses (usually blue, yellow or pink). A key symptom is whether they report “print moving on the page”. You can hold some reading material in front of a student and ask them, “do the words jump or move on the page”? If they respond “yes”, this is usually a reliable indicator (especially for older children) that they will benefit from tinted lenses. They will also be able to tell you what coloured tint makes the words most steady. The problem of words moving on the page is not the same as an eye tracking problem as students with an eye tracking problem do not report that words move on the page – they report skipping or jumping words when they read. The symptom of moving words persists even if one eye is covered. Although tinted lenses can be a great help, most students requiring tinted lenses will also benefit from training aspects of their visual and auditory development. Before prescribing tinted lenses near focusing and binocular skills should be assessed to eliminate other reasons for these symptoms. For more information on tinted lenses click here.

What causes visual and auditory deficits?
Although there is a known genetic basis for dyslexia; prematurity, environmental deprivation, various conditions (eg. autism, ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia etc) as well as trauma and  a plethora of other possibilities not well understood (eg. diet & social behaviours) may be associated with developmental delays. In many cases we don’t know why a child presents with low level sensory perceptual delays affecting visual & auditory skills.

Is dyslexia caused by a problem with the cerebellum?
There is good evidence that the cerebellum is affected but so are a number of other parts of the brain. The treatment offered by the iCept programme targets those regions of the brain associated with a particular skill deficit. The cerebullum itself may possibly be involved with developing the automatic memory for these skills once they have been learned.