Seeing the alternatives


Families desperate for answers turn to nontraditional vision therapies

Josh Hawkins/Chicago Parent The Bernath family uses different colored glasses to oirrect vision problems previously misdiagnosed as learning disabilities.

When several of her children were diagnosed with learning disabilities including dyslexia, Rivka Bernath of Chicago spent thousands on traditional doctors, tutors and special education classes. Nothing worked. Six of her seven children continued to fall behind.

Finally, she found a specialist who said her children suffer from vision problems-not learning disabilities. Bernath's children were prescribed various tinted glasses that change the speed light enters their eyes, preventing the distortions and making it easier for them to read. Soon after her children started wearing the glasses, Bernath says, their school performance improved.

Doctors dispute the merit of alternative treatments. Dr. Michael Rosenberg, chief of neuro-ophthalmology at Northwestern University, says "it's like a cult-they've got these lenses, but in the medical literature, there is no scientific evidence."

Parents, however, are discovering their children have been misdiagnosed with dyslexia or attention deficit disorder when, in reality, they have vision problems, says Dave Sonntag, spokesman for the College of Optometrists in Vision Development in St. Louis, Mo.

Children who have 20/20 vision but get headaches when they read may have a vision problem, Sonntag says.

Vision problems can be as simple as lazy eye or as serious as a tumor.

Children's vision is screened once they enter preschool, but Dr. Susan Ksiazek, ophthalmologist at the University of Chicago, says children need to see an eye doctor before they turn 3.

"Screening doesn't catch many types of problems. It usually tests how well the child can see the chalkboard-it has little to do with how well the child can see up close," says Stephen Miller, executive director of the St. Louis college.

Treatments for vision problems vary. Many are controversial, such as the Bernath family's tinted glasses. They were developed by the Long Beach, Calif.-based Irlen Institute,

"A lot of people are not aware of the fact that when they are reading, they are not seeing the page the same way other people do," says founder Helen Irlen. "This [approach] isn't drug-oriented or invasive and the results are rapid."

But Rosenberg says parents should take children to a pediatric ophthalmologist who can determine if there is a physical or a neurological problem.


-- Danielle Braff, Medill News Service

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