Convergence insufficiency has long been linked to learning disabilities by Behavioural Optometrists like myself, but how does it relate to the child who is struggling to learn at school, and what is the mechanism that makes it so important?
What is Convergence Insufficiency and how is it Measured?
Convergence insufficiency is a condition where the convergence mechanism of vision, that is the ability to turn our eyes inwards in order to keep the near target single, is insufficient or underperforming.
This means that, for a distant object, the two eyes work well together, but it is a different story when it comes to looking at a near object such as a computer screen, a book, an ipad or a phone. In this condition, the two eyes are unable to turn in sufficiently to do this near task, causing symptoms like eye strain, headaches and even double vision. However, one of the most significant symptoms is poor concentration for reading tasks, and often reading and learning disabilities.
While many Optometrists do not even bother to test for this condition, Behavioural Optometrists spend quite a lot of time investigating this area and examining how it might be affecting learning and school performance.
What Happens During Reading?
As I have mentioned, convergence insufficiency means that our eyes do not turn in far enough, and have a great tendency to swing out at the earliest opportunity. When a child is reading, they focus on a word, then they have to break their convergence to move to the next word.
What happens if, when they break and move, they eyes swing out? Clearly the child has to converge again onto the new word, and they have to do this for every word, reestablishing convergence time and time again. This can slow a child’s reading to snail’s pace!
How do we Treat the Condition?
Convergence insufficiency can be treated in either of two ways… using reading glasses (also called support lenses) or using eye exercises.
Support lenses are the most popular way of treating this condition, because it is fast and usually very effective. It’s simply a case of put the lenses on, and start reading.
Exercise on the other hand, take time and dedication to do, and most children find them boring. That being said, I will frequently combine the two methods for maximum effectiveness, and we usually get a tremendous response from this type of treatment, especially when combined with other learning disabilities vision therapy techniques.
So if your child is struggling at school and if their learning and especially reading is poor, then a Behavioural Optometrist could hold the key. Get your child assessed, and ask about the most effective ways to treat Convergence Insufficiency, because this is frequently an easy way to help a child with learning disabilities.