Dalton and Dane

(The goal of VisionMechanic.net is to provide science-based clinically relevant resources about humans, for humans. All humans. This series highlighting International Vision and Learning Month (August) is more focused on those humans who are in formal learning programs, most notably, younger humans. If you yourself are a learner, or if you teach them, guide them, care for them or provide therapy for them, then this series will be of interest to you.)

Dalton and Dane are twins from a nearby First Nations community. Given a lack of local supports for vision and appropriate training in the local community and school, these boys have a long road ahead: My estimation is that they have almost zero chance of finishing high school – even though they are now only 12 years old (loads of time to intervene) and quite capable.

Schoolwork for these boys is not only impossible without essential vision help, it’s uncomfortable, toxic, even threatening. Without supports, school is inaccessible, even though the doors are open and the latest tech is in place. The fact is even the tech adds to the obstacles for many, yet another barrier.

The image attached is a ‘strip’ from their autorefractor readings, right eyes on top, left eyes on the bottom. Confusing to the untrained eye, but very revealing to the Vision Mechanic. Bottom line: Both boys have sufficient farsighted astigmatism that reading is impossible, and they live with nearly perpetual headaches and blur. The readings also suggest that the strain to try to focus is so great, the brain has virtually given up trying (indicated by the lack of variability in the readings). Schoolwork for these boys is not only impossible without essential vision help, it’s uncomfortable, toxic, even threatening. Without supports, school is inaccessible, even though the doors are open and the latest tech is in place. The fact is even the tech adds to the obstacles for many, yet another barrier.

While completing degrees in neural science then in education, there was plenty of discussion around basic psychology and a review of some classical thinking on ‘learning’ (you owe it to yourself to read Piaget, Kelly, Rousseau, among others). On the large stage, these ideas were helpful in putting the students at the centre of the process, tailoring programming to meet group needs according to age, milieu, and content/curriculum. There was however zero discussion related to how vision works – even though the education world was on the verge of a major paradigm shift to an electronic in-your-face mode of instruction, literally speaking. It was the same in other schools like in psychology and medicine and remains the same today.

Kids can learn and should learn in different ways, using a multitude of approaches that appeal to all senses and their motor needs. Given an already high reliance on vision in traditional learning, the shift to eLearning formats in the 1990’s further limited the options for multi-sensory instruction and put an even greater emphasis on strong and fluid visual skills. So, we proceed blindly, making increasing demands on basic visual function. Still, nowhere in education in Alberta, or in Canada, is there any requirement to ensure a child can even handle the visual demands of the neo-traditional (aka ‘computer-based) classrooms. Now in the COVID-19 era, visual demands have increased exponentially.

In Dalton’s and Dane’s case, the over-reliance on computer screens due to COVID-19 related changes to instructional delivery means they are now even more on their own as this approach is uncomfortable, if it’s even possible for them to do the tasking at all. Nobody is asking about these guys, or the thousands of others across the province who are suffering in plain sight. For many of these kids, Dalton and Dane included, they have effectively now been excluded from the rolls of those who deserve an education. Schooling is no longer accessible to them.

we proceed blindly, making increasing demands on basic visual function and yet nowhere in education in Alberta, or in Canada, is there any requirement to ensure a child can even handle the visual demands of the neo-traditional (aka ‘computer-based) classrooms.

For many of these kids, Dalton and Dane included, they have effectively now been excluded from the rolls of those who deserve an education. Schooling is no longer accessible to them.

Dane and Dalton struggled from day one and various people turned a blind eye to their needs – this vision blindness, the inability or unwillingness to see vision as important in learning and development, is a major factor in why schools lose so many like these twins. The problem is particularly onerous in remote communities, and in First Nations communities where there seems little Provincial or National interest to provide adequate care, and where (in some cases I’ve seen), the local community itself disadvantages their own children by refusing care, period.

The problem is particularly onerous in remote communities, and in First Nations communities where there seems little Provincial or National interest to provide adequate care, and where (in some cases I’ve seen), the local community itself disadvantages their own children by refusing care, period.

Furthermore, in an age of bully-awareness and anti-bullying campaigns, Dane and Dalton feel like wearing glasses is a punishment – the teasing today is far more important than future life prospects. To be effectively blind is one thing, to be teased about it is another story entirely. Vision problems affect as many as 1 in 4 children, most fly under the radar, and they do not discriminate according to race or gender. Children need to learn that vision is important, something to be respected.

My hope is that these boys find a school that better understands their physical visual disabilities and makes room for them before it’s too late. Their amblyopia (poor visual acuity, so-called ‘lazy eye’) is detectable early and fairly straightforward to treat – but there is still no funding to do this and parents must pay out of pocket.

When schools, psychologists, and family physicians finally attend to their own vision blindness, boys like Dalton and Dane will have a fighting chance. In the meantime, expect these children will be ‘coded’ so the school might receive additional funding for instructional support – which will not include any money for vision rehabilitation, nor will the school be required to even make note vision issues, or whether there is a report of a vision exam on hand.

This current series on Vision and Learning highlights many issues around ‘vision blindness‘, in other words, the ease with which we all dismiss vision as both a problem in learning and behaviour, but also the cause of many children’s apparent developmental concerns. Dalton and Dane are two examples where mom agreed to have the story published so that others might wake up. I would not expect a mom to have my background and she like most moms blamed herself when she first learned the full story. Still, in their community not far from my clinic, like the other First Nations communities around, the lack of attention to vision leads to serious community and individual tragedies that are fully ignored. This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of any one who cares for these kids and gets paid for it, but especially those who make decisions for them.

It’s the same everywhere. Our blindness to vision means we never get to drop the ball because we simply never picked it up. So, how do we know we’re neglecting our kids if we don’t know? A great question for a future post.

When it comes down to it, we’re failing thousands of kids every year. The programs are in place to detect and manage these common problems, but the infrastructure is not there, nor the will. Nor is there a requirement to have a child’s vision assessed.

It’s time to take vision seriously, it’s well overdue in fact. The move to siloed isolated learning environments (erroneously and cruelly called ‘sugar cubes‘ in one jurisdiction because of all the ‘sweet kids’ who are stuffed into these enclosed spaces), will lead to increased broadening of the gaps for the children who for reasons of vision alone are incapable or unwilling to manage such extreme visual tasking for hours daily. It’s hard to put numbers on it, but expect that COVID-19 will see the following outcomes, mostly among kids whose vision concerns (Visual Impediments to Learning and Development or VILD) have yet to be diagnosed or addressed:

  • Lowered outcomes/performance, so lower grades.
  • Greater number of classes dropped, not completed.
  • Greater intensity and frequency of emotional outbursts.
  • Greater admission to attend medical diagnostics, including brain imaging, due to unwanted behaviour such as inattention, and increased fatigue and headache.
  • Increased prescribing of medication for attention/unwanted behaviours..
  • Increased suicidal ideation and criminal activity.

The nearsighted kids with decent muscle control will do well in comparison.

When it comes down to it, we’re failing thousands of kids every year. The programs are in place to detect and manage these common problems, but the infrastructure is not there, nor the will. Nor is there a requirement to have a child’s vision assessed. The common reaction to this is ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that, that’s doesn’t make any sense.’ And this is precisely what drives my writing and advocacy.

There are relatively simple solutions for all stakeholders and a future post will address these simple cures for vision blindness.

Expand your understanding:

Vision is critical to learning and development, period. Learn more about astigmatism here and learn more about vision, like what glasses prescriptions mean, by following the content here on VisionMechanic.net and on YouTube. You’ll be especially interested in spending time with us if you’re a parent, a teacher, therapist or doctor working with reading, developmental, and learning disorders, and of course brain injuries. Loads of good practical information and advice.

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One Reply to “Dalton and Dane”

  1. Al

    Bold commentary. Truthful and accurate. Time is past for ignoring the realities of children in this collectively non-focussed time. Many must feel the same way as you.

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