Tag Archive for 'vision'

Mistaking dyslexia


Daniel Britton’s Alphabet

In “Powerful images show what it’s like to read when you have dyslexia,” Ana Swanson reported about the typeface developed by Daniel Britton in 2013. As an individual with dyslexia, Mr. Britton, who works in graphic design, created a typeface that omits parts of capital letters, as illustrated here, putatively to simulate the experience of reading with dyslexia.

I am saddened by the possibility that people may get the mistaken impression that dyslexia is caused by misperception of the shapes or forms of letters. Fortunately, Ms. Swanson discounts this mistake at two points in her article. First, she notes that the font is not designed to mimic what a person with dyslexia sees when she or he reads, but to force skilled readers to lose fluency. Second, although I might quibble with the phrasing she uses, Ms. Swanson puts the focus in the right place when she reports
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Visual differences are a consequence, not a cause, of dyslexia

In an article to appear 10 July 2013 in Neuron, Olumide Olulade, Eileen Napoliello, and Guinevere Eden present a series of studies that greatly help educators, psychologists, neurologists, and others understand the relationship between visual deficits and dyslexia. Although most people interested in reading have understood that problems with phonological processes undergird dyslexia, personal accounts of those with dyslexia and some anomalous evidence about the visual cortex and the performance of individuals with dyslexia on certain visual tasks kept the possibility of a visual component open to debate. Professor Eden’s group devised studies and collected the data that shed light on these issues.

In a nutshell, in their first study, Eden’s team found the same results that others had found: When their participants with dyslexia were compared to similar aged children, they showed certain deficits in visual processing associated with a particular part of the brain shown by fMRI. However, when their participants were compared with younger children of like reading ability, there are no deficits in the visual performance; so, these children must not have had the visual problems all along. In their third study, the researchers provided even stronger evidence: The provided powerful remedial reading instruction to their participants and they observed not only improved reading outcomes, but they also found that the students had improved performance on the visual tasks as reflected in fMRI. (Click the accompanying image for a movie of Professors Eden and Olulade explaining the experiments.)

Here is the abstract:

Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-domi- nated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identifica- tion and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion pro- cessing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age- matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonolog- ical-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunc- tion is not causal to dyslexia but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.

Olulade, O. A., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Abnormal visual motion processing is not a cause of dyslexia. Neuron, 79, 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.05.002

AAP and AAO on vision therapy


Interview with: Walter M. Fierson, MD,
Chair of Learning Disabilities Subcommittee
of Ophthalmology Section, American Academy
of Pediatrics

In “Groups Assail Vision Therapy as Remedy for Learning Disabilities,” Crystal Phend of MedPage Today reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Ophthalmology jointly issued a statement calling the use of well-known vision therapies unfounded and ineffective.

SAN FRANCISCO, July 27 — Behavioral vision therapy, eye exercises, and colored lenses have no role in treatment of dyslexia and other learning disabilities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The academy came down hard on these “scientifically unsupported” alternative treatments in a joint statement with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and other vision organizations.

The AAP, which has published many valuable statements about Learning Disabilities in the past, made unequivocal statements about the problems with these therapies. In the accompanying audio clip, Dr. Walter Frierson provides good explanation of the rationale for the recommendations.

Learning disabilities, including reading disabilities, are commonly diagnosed in children. Their etiologies are multifactorial, reflecting genetic influences and dysfunction of brain systems. Learning disabilities are complex problems that require complex solutions. Early recognition and referral to qualified educational professionals for evidence-based evaluations and treatments seem necessary to achieve the best possible outcome. Most experts believe that dyslexia is a language-based disorder. Vision problems can interfere with the process of learning; however, vision problems are not the cause of primary dyslexia or learning disabilities. Scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses for improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions. Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended.

Pediatrics 2009;124:837–844

Faithful readers of LD Blog will remember that there have been perhaps a half-dozen posts here on the mistaken (at best) therapies promoted to families of individuals with Learning Disabilities. It is valuable to have prestigious organizations such as the AAP and AAO issue statements that support the observations presented here.

Teachers, psychologists, and school administrators: Please advise the parents of your students with reading problems not to waste time and money on colored lenses, eye tracking and eye teaming, and other similar therapies.

Read Ms. Phend’s report. Download the full statement by the AAP. Visit the AAP Web site, especially its section on Learning Disabilities.

Irlen Kool-Aid consumed again

Yet another reporter has covered the benefits of providing colored lenses or overlays for improving reading performance. Based on subjective reports from a child and her father, Morgan Bond of television station KPVI in Pocatello (ID, US) described Irlen’s Syndrome as the cause and blue-tinted glasses as the solution to Noel Chapman’s reading problems.
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Colored lenses yet again

In a post entitled “Relief in sight for Micheala’s reading disorder,” Jayne Hulbert of the Taranaki (NZ) Daily News describes the case of a child who has been diagnosed as having Irlen Syndrome and is helped by viewing text through colored overlays. It’s the usual….

Micheala Kennard can’t wait to be looking at the world through her orange-tinted glasses.

But for now the Ohawe 11-year-old is making do with a coloured plastic overlay she puts on top whatever she’s reading. The tinted plastic stops words from moving around the page.

Micheala has a visual processing disorder called Irlen syndrome which means when she reads, words jumble and move around.

Continue reading ‘Colored lenses yet again’

3D bologna

A Web site selling “help for smart kids struggling with reading and dyslexia” promises “Before you leave this site, you will discover the answers your child needs to be a successful reader.” Mira and Mark Halpert claim that “Gifted students Operating with a Learning Disability” are actually right-brained learners who think in pictures. On every page that I examined at the extensive Web site, they ask parents to complete this checklist and send it to them.

My child is able to remember things that happened long ago.

Once my child visits a place, they will remember it in detail.

My child has a difficult time following directions

My child has a difficult time copying material from the chalk/white board.

My child has a difficult time paying attention in the classroom.

When my child is interested in something they can focus on it for a long time.

My child is behind in reading

They recommend teaching sight words, seeing developmental optometrists, and lots of other nonsense. As evidence they offer testimonials. They do not refer to scholarly literature.

With so much bologna, all one needs is a couple of slices of bread and some mayonaise…. I hesitate to provide publicity for the site by linking to it, but it’s a good idea to let people see what’s being marketed to the unsuspecting.

Correcting misrepresentations of LD

Liz Ditz, about whose blog we’ve commented previously, posted about misrepresentations of dyslexia 29 August. Ms. Ditz expressed well-founded concern about a San Fransisco journalist who fell for fascile characterizations of dyslexia.

Nanette Asimov, the Chronicle education writer (who otherwise has good chops–she investigated Scientology’s worming its way into the SF school district) made two serious errors in a recent news article on special education:

In 2001, Juleus Chapman was a Fremont 8th-grader with “scotopic sensitivity syndrome” — a condition that makes words seem to swim across the page — and dyslexia, which causes letters to appear in reverse order.

In other words,

  1. She accepted a quack definition. “Scotopic sensitivity syndrome” exists only in the mind of the people who provide an expensive and useless fix
  2. She perpetuated two destructive myths about dyslexia: that it has to do with visual perception, and it has something to do with reversal of letters.

Ms. Ditz has got it right here. Learning Disabilities such as dyslexia are too often characterized in ways that are probably well-intentioned but are simply wrong. Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS), reversals, learning styles, and many other misrepresentations of LD are perpetuated by journalists and even educators. Peggy and I opined about a whole host of them in a recent editorial for TeachingLD.org.

I’m very glad Ms. Ditz devoted time to refuting these misrepresentations. Getting the general public and even some professionals concerned with individuals with LD to a attend to and employ effective practices is complicated by the perpetuation of myths such as SSS (and Irlen lenses, colored overlays, etc.) and strephosymbolia (reversals). I’m sending Ms. Ditz a note of thanks for her work.

Link to Ms. Ditz’s entry aptly entitled “Educating Education Writers,” a self-referential link to our previous post about Ms. Ditz’s blog, a link to our editorial on TLD, and a link to a page developed by some students in my class on characteristics of LD in the mid 1990s.