Visual Disorders, Anxiety, Depression and School Performance

Anxiety and depression in your child may be the result of a visual disorder. The physical, mental, and emotional changes that are going on at this age make it difficult to manage a disorder they usually don’t even know they have. Compensation, and particularly in school, is much more successful at a younger age, a much simpler time in their lives. Intelligent, bright children study for hours and still struggle. They often feel that no matter how hard they try, they will never be “good enough.” With so much effort going to their studies, they may feel they are missing out on having fun and being a kid. They feel resentful of their parents but mostly take these feelings out on themselves — feeling they are not smart enough, not good enough. This contributes to both anxiety and depression.

I recently met with an eighth-grader scheduled by his parents for help.  This client had terrible anxiety about being in school. S/he had difficulty in math, and reading took a tremendous amount of effort.  Reading passages over and over and over again, s/he often memorized them before beginning to understand them. This client studied from the time s/he got home until bedtime.  Anxiety about whether or not the information had been understood and retained would take hold the following day. Testing took longer to complete than for others, and so anxiety about finishing on time was prevalent on test days. Anxiety would continue to build over the fretting about resultant test scores and overwhelming thoughts of a negative outcome. When scores were revealed, a hampster wheel of self-deprecation ran on and on about how much better others did, the state of her/his GPA, and how much smarter everyone else must be. I remind you, this is an eighth grader. 

In the first session, I did a simple visual assessment to see if her/his eyes were “working together.” This is not about vision, but coordinated eye movement. It appeared that the eyes were not, in fact, working together, and I referred this client to Dr. Brian Thamel (in Spencer), a Developmental Optometrist. Dr. Thamel confirmed that my client had a Disorder of Convergence. What does this mean? Well, the eyes are designed to focus together on the same point in space. With both eyes doing so, we have both recognition and comprehension. We have both sides of the brain processing information. But if our eyes don’t focus on the same point in space, then each eye is seeing something different. The brain, not at all happy with the mental confusion this creates, shuts off the information coming from one eye.

People affected by this disorder have reading recognition but struggle with comprehension. In math, we need both the right brain (to see patterns) and the left brain (to understand the logic).  With only half of the brain working at any time, there’s bound to be trouble. This disorder can cause other problems, such as an inability to see life patterns in thinking and behavior, and to then make generalizations to correct our course for greater success. People who are undiagnosed have no idea of the amount of stress and irritability that is created, on a daily basis, as they try to focus their eyes together for any length of time. Sleepiness while reading or studying is common. They might be easily distracted by noise: a lawnmower, dishwasher, voices.

And for school-aged children, no matter how long and how hard they study, they are going to struggle in school. It doesn’t make sense to the parents because their child is so smart, and so they tend to push. These youngsters feel a constant sense of defeat and hopelessness as they try every harder, often with teachers and parents who believe, because of a child’s intelligence, that they are not trying hard enough. Visual disorders like a Disorder of Convergence are not are not tested for in schools. Children suffer with them and never know why school is so difficult for them. School should not be hard. It should be exciting, interesting and challenging in a way that creates a passion to learn.  

Back to our eighth grader. While working with Dr. Thamel on eye exercises that took no more than ten minutes a day, the client worked with me on anxiety and limiting beliefs (depression). Seven sessions later the client was ready to terminate therapy. S/he reported an absence of anxiety (my part), and that studying had become easier (Dr. Thamel’s part). Educational materials made sense and were easy to read and comprehend. Test anxiety had decreased significantly, and this youngster believed s/he would do well on tests and in school. It doesn’t get any better than that!