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Is your smart kid struggling at school?

Has your usually smart child been complaining recently that they are struggling at school? Maybe they have never had bad results, and always behaved well in class and then suddenly they find themselves struggling? Does it seem like problems have appeared out of nowhere? Have they got 20 / 20 vision but still experiencing problems with school work?

It could be visual stress.

What is Visual Stress?

Visual Stress, is also known as Meares-Irlen, after the two researchers who first discovered the connection between white page glare and reading difficulties. It is a perceptual processing condition that causes reading difficulties, headaches and visual problems from exposure to patterns in text, such as lines of text. Sufferers experience print distortion and fatigue when reading.

The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person, with approximately 20% of the population suffering to some degree.

Our specialist optometrists can help identify potential visual conditions including Visual Stress.

Talk to us today about Visual Stress.

Children develop a set of skills to help them gather and process visual information. They are necessary to perform tasks such as reading lines of text on a page, copying information from the whiteboard and staying focused on schoolwork. Visual Stress can cause problems in these areas.

There are 25 visual skills that children need to develop. When they go wrong they can lead to visual stress. Here are several of them:

1) Convergency Insufficiency or Eye Teaming

This is pulling the eyes together to make the text single.

Your eyes should work together in a coordinated and precise way to provide single, comfortable, efficient vision and depth perception.

What happens when there’s a problem?

If the two eyes are misaligned, the brain won’t be able to correctly combine the image from each eye into one image. When this happens, a person will lose 3-D depth perception and may experience double vision.

What symptoms might your child experience?

Loss of place when reading, poor reading comprehension, eyestrain and fatigue.

2) Accommodation - or Eye Focusing

This is focussing the text to make it clear. When this skill is working, the person should easily be able to shift their focus between objects at different distances.

What happens when there’s a problem?

Your child may experience difficulty focusing on a book, or any reading material. They may also experience continual or intermittent blur, especially when doing close up work. They may also experience difficulty shifting focus between two objects, for example the white board and their page of work.

What symptoms might your child experience?

Headaches, watery eyes, tiredness, eye pain, eye strain.

3) Fixation and Fixation Release

This is the ability to lock on to a word and then let go again.

What happens when there’s a problem:

A child may not be able to look long enough at the word to process the content and then be able to move on to the next work, whilst understanding what they have read.

What symptoms might your child experience?

Your child may lose their place whilst reading, find it tricky to copy words down from the whiteboard, experience extreme tiredness, have poor co ordination or clumsiness, reduced productivity.

When there is an issue with one or more of those skills, you have Visual Stress and a problem with functional vision. This has nothing to do with intelligence.

Why Does it Go Undetected?

Many parents have taken their child to have their eyes tested and been told they have 20/20 vision.

This has nothing to do with their functional vision skills.

Vision Problems that cause Visual Stress aren’t typically detected by vision screenings, which usually test your visual acuity, or ability to see things clearly.  

Traditional Eyesight tests look at your ability to see certain sizes of letters at set distances, typically 20 feet and 16 inches, on a Snellen eye chart.

Functional vision encompasses more than just seeing letters on a chart, so testing for Visual Stress requires a more comprehensive examination performed by a behavioural optometrist. Ruth Perrott is our behavioural optometrist at Vision Care Development with vast experience in this field.

This Functional Vision Test can take an hour or more, requires special equipment and training, and tests for a wide range of functional vision problems.

1 in 4 children has a vision problem that affects their ability to read and learn. It’s why we believe every child should have an exam to rule out functional vision problem EVEN if they pass the regular screening.

In the long run, detecting and addressing functional vision problems as soon as possible would help us properly diagnose problems that are often mistaken for ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, and behaviour issues.

Is Visual Stress a Form of Dyslexia?

Visual stress is not a symptom of dyslexia but 50% of those who have visual stress also happen to be dyslexic. Click here to read more about dyslexia and how our experts at Vision Care Development can help you.

How Do You Test for Visual Stress?

At Vision Care Development our experts have over 70 years of combined experience working with children and adults with visual stress. We have specialised equipment and advanced training in order to diagnose and treat these problems.

Why do These Problems Suddenly Materialise, Even Among Children who Have Never Struggled Before?

Children learn to live with the vision problem to a certain degree.

The visual system is constantly adapting, and the brain can find ways to compensate for issues that affect your vision.

For example, if you have a problem with convergence, your brain may suppress the image from one of your eyes to avoid double vision. While this solves the problem of double vision, it reduces depth perception and the comfort and efficiency of your vision.

Children are rarely aware that these adaptations are occurring. Even when they are aware, they may have no idea that their visual system isn’t operating correctly because their visual experience is the only one they know.

They assume everyone sees and experiences the world as they do.

How does Visual Stress Effect School Subjects?

Reading:  As children progress through Key Stage 1 into Key Stage 2, the amount of reading increases, the text gets smaller and they start learning comprehension. Visual Stress problems can increase at this point because their visual skills are needed more than ever before.

Maths:   You would assume that maths has nothing to do with vision, but this is not the case. Maths is to do with space and visual perception and therefore if you have problems with depth perception and spatial awareness then you will struggle with maths.

Handwriting: It is important that your visual skills are working properly in order for you to effectively write your work and for it to be neat.

Story writing  Many smart children are great verbally but struggle to write their ideas down on paper. Some children may need help collating their ideas and writing them down in the correct order.

How is Visual Stress Treated?

There are a number of potential treatments.  It may be one or a combination of the following treatments that are used to treat a problem:

Prescription glasses: Some patients with visual stress also have refractive conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. In most cases, glasses to address these conditions only improve the person’s eyesight and not their functional vision. These are commonly referred to as ‘compensatory’ lenses.

Vision therapy: Vision Therapy Is a physical therapy for the eyes and brain.

It is a highly effective non-surgical treatment for Visual Stress and many common visual problems such as lazy eye, crossed eyes, double vision, convergence insufficiency and some reading and learning disabilities.


Watch this video to see how this intelligent 8 year old girl, Siena was suffering from Visual Stress, and how we helped her.

What should i do if i think my child has Visual Stress?

Check for Symptoms

Does your child have any of these symptoms listed above or do they:

Struggle to read books sent home from school?

Avoid reading?

Suffer from headaches?

Get easily distracted?

Complain the words are blurry or moving?

Find numbers a problem ?

Get frustrated about homework?

Struggle with spellings?

Use their finger to keep their place?

Fail to understand instructions?

Find themselves daydreaming?

Have low self esteem? 

Feel that they are failing at school?

Feel tired all the time?​

Have trouble completing puzzles?

Reverse letters?

At VisionCare Development, we are passionate about using this optometrist-supervised treatment program that can, in many cases, successfully correct specific visual challenges faced by children and adults.

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I can't underestimate the importance of getting your child's eyes checked for functional vision problems. My 8 year daughter was told countless times that she had 20 / 20 vision by various optometrists. She has always done well at school but earlier last year started experiencing vision problems such as double vision and moving words. I was baffled when again i was told that she had 20 / 20 vision. One optician suggested that she may have Visual Stress which i had never heard of , and of course thought the worst. I was referred to Ruth Perrott and Fiona Healey at Vision Care Development in York and they immediately picked up on the fact that she had trouble wit…

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