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If any of you are in your 40's or older, you will remember that very few children had severe reading problems when we were in grade school. Of course some children could read and perform math problems better than others, but all of them possessed the rudimentary abilities to do so. Today the situation in the classroom is much different.
In several states over 40% of the children enrolled in grades K-12 are reading significantly below grade level, and we've all heard of the United States' students disgraceful scores on math competency tests. Why did this happen when we were one of the top nations in the world in educational achievement 40 to 50 years ago?
I propose that the answer is in the change in our culture, and that change has drastically affected the visual development of our children.
Let's start by looking at the life of a grade-school aged child in the 1960's. Whenever the child was not in school, he or she was usually playing outside, and that play often invented creating games and scenarios with friends. These games often involved risky physical maneuvers involving homemade skateboards, stilts, trampolines, etc. where the kids tried to outdo each other performing tricks.
The children usually ran free outside all day around the neighborhood because mothers were home and the kids were free to go into whatever house was handy to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Many times parents did not see their kids until it was time for dinner. There was little television to watch, and most of that television was family fare with less action than is found in most television shows today.
So the children were able to develop excellent visual-motor abilities and laterality skills thanks to all of the movement that they experienced when they were playing and all of the risks that they took as they challenged those skills in spontaneously created games and contests.
They also developed great visualization skills by inventing these games as well as inventing story lines incorporating cowboys, soldiers, dolls, house, or other scenarios that kids loved to explore.
Now let's fast-forward to the life of a grade-school child in 2010.
Whether their mothers work outside of the home or not, parents are very afraid to let their children play outside unsupervised because of the threat of child abduction. Because of this fear and because more activities are available to families outside of the home today, any movement activities are generally very structured and require little experimentation or spontaneity.
Kids spend most of their time at home watching television or DVD's when they are not playing video games. These children do not develop good laterality or visual-motor abilities because they are not moving as much and what movement is done is very structured and planned.
They are also not developing good visualization skills because the images are coming into their brains from the screen rather than being created in their brains and then played out in the real world.
Even in the normal visual developmental sequence, a child does not become visibly mature and dominant until he or she is at least five to six years of age. Since this is the time that children today are required to start reading in most cases, it's imperative that good visual development takes place before they enter school.
If their general and visual development is behind due to the factors listed above, they will not be visually competent by the time they are required to perform the complex visual task of reading. If the child is not visibly dominant when they are required to read, spell, and perform math problems, they will have to use another sensory system (called "deflecting) to process the visual input which decreases their competency in all of these areas.
Fortunately, these visual problems can be remedied with a program of vision therapy which is offered by developmental optometrists all over the world. Vision therapy trains the brain to perform visual functions such as tracking, eye-teaming, focusing, and visual processing correctly when visual system development was delayed or interrupted for any reason.
When children undergo a vision therapy program, their parents usually find that the child not only performs as well as their peers in school, but they often excel beyond that due to exceptional visual abilities developed during therapy.
Since our culture is not going to change back to that of the 1960's, the need for vision therapy will continue to grow. Therefore, it is important that children who are struggling in school have a complete functional vision examination by a developmental optometrist to determine if vision therapy is right for them. If so, it will change their lives.