Although their origins and symptomology are different, dyslexia and visual impairment respond surprisingly well to a shared list of accommodations. By making a few simple changes to worksheets and presentations, teachers can reduce stress for themselves and for their students.
According to the International Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is “characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities (IDA, 2002).” Unlike low vision, which is sometimes caused by head trauma and may originate in the brain or in the structure of the eye itself, dyslexia is always life-long and localized in the language centers of the brain.
Possible signs and symptoms of dyslexia in children include:
• Testing well orally, but not on paper
• Low self-esteem
• Claims to dislike reading and writing
• Attention deficiency
• A student with average or above-average intelligence who is behind grade milestones on reading, writing, and spelling.
• Complaints of stomach ache or headache when asked to read; however, no pain when asked to complete other visual tasks (e.g. navigating the classroom, going from a dim room to a bright outdoor space)
• Issues with verbal fluency (speaking clearly, remembering spoken teacher instructions) as well as reading proficiency.
Minor Vision Loss. Not all vision problems require teacher concern; some are common in young children and can often be fully corrected with eye training or glasses. These conditions include:
• Near- or far-sightedness
• Strabismus (eyes misaligned, not working together with each other)
• Amblyopia (“lazy eye” – one eye not communicating effectively with the brain)
These minor structural or neurological vision problems will be caught by a child’s pediatrician or optometrist and usually don’t require the teacher to make major changes to his or her classroom set-up.
Major Vision Loss. Serious visual impairment that cannot be fully corrected with glasses will likely be a long-term concern for both the teacher and the affected student. “Visual Impairment” is usually defined for disability purposes as vision worse than 20/60 or 20/70 (with glasses), while “blindness” refers to corrected vision worse than 20/200.
Some symptoms of serious visual impairment overlap with dyslexia, and a teacher isn’t qualified or responsible for making that kind of diagnosis, but here are some warning signs to watch out for in an elementary student:
• Complaints that a space is too bright
• Trouble navigating the classroom or playground safely
• Pressing one’s face close to books or screens
• Eyes get tired or sore quickly
• Has an easier time reading handouts or screens than the board
• Usually does not have the same issues with speech, listening, and attention as a student with dyslexia
• Usually (but not always) has no other developmental or learning disabilities
Davis, R. D. (1992). Test for dyslexia: 37 common traits.
International Dyslexia Association. (2002, November 12). Definition of Dyslexia. International Dyslexia Association.
Hyvarinen, L. (2010, September). How to detect impaired vision in infants and children?