The link between juvenile delinquency and reading problems is significant.

To further compound our national reading problems, extensive research indicates that poorly developed visual skills are heavily correlated with juvenile delinquency and reading problems.

According to the most recent report issued by the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL), our nation’s literacy levels are well below the standards we’ve set and the prison population is full of people who are illiterate or not reading even at functional levels.  The NCAL report on prison literacy states:

75 – 90% of juvenile offenders have learning disabilities

up to 50% of adult inmates are functionally illiterate

up to 90% of adult inmates are school drop-outs

In the Kempsville Place Group Home in Norfolk Virginia, a residential care facility, director, Thomas Brett, added a vision screening exam and discovered that 50% of the boys had vision related learning problems. This indicated that there was a serious link between juvenile delinquency and reading problems.

According to two classic studies conducted in 1989, one by Dr. Joel Zaba and a nine year study by The California Youth Authority, recidivism rates declined dramatically when youngsters had their visual perception problems corrected.  (American Optometric News, Newsletter of Behavioral Optometry, 1989).   

Although it cannot be said that inadequate visual skills are the single cause of all learning disability labels or juvenile delinquency and reading problems, the importance of vision cannot be overlooked on these children’s self esteem and ability to function in the classroom when they are in school.

Visual skills should be among the first ones evaluated when they enter school because the visual skill demands are so high and are the foundation for self-esteem as well we success in school.

Juvenile delinquency and reading problems go hand in hand as every study shows about our prison systems.

If there are gaps in vision development stages it places stress on the visual system.  Children sitting in front of TV’s and computer monitors do not shift their focal length frequently enough, and this results in visual acuity problems, the need for glasses to see up close, and poor peripheral vision.

The Link Between Good Vision and School Success is Intrinsically Connected To the Link Between Juvenile Delinquency and Reading Scores.

Nearly everything a child is asked to do in the classroom depends on good visual skills.  The U.S. Department of Education, through the ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children, has estimated:

75 to 90% of all classroom learning comes to the students via the visual pathways.  If there is any interference with these pathways, the student will probably experience difficulty with learning tasks. (Learning Related Visual Problems, ERIC Publication, n.d.)

Thus, any child may be a risk for vision problems, and it is also well known that a solid link exists between juvenile delinquency and reading problems.

Any child may be at risk for visual problems however.

juvenile delinquency and reading problems The daughter of a former president was one of them.

Due to undetected vision problems, Luci Johnson, daughter of the former President Lyndon Johnson, nearly dropped out of school while her father was in the White House. 

After taking nearly every test imaginable, Luci was told she was bright but not living up to her potential.  She became so frustrated that she began blacking out during her tests.

It was only after visiting a local developmental optometrist and taking a comprehensive vision related learning exam that Lucy was able to regain her confidence and stay in school.  The doctor found that she had tracking and focusing problems that distorted everything she tried to read or write. 

Once Lucy completed a course of vision therapy in the doctor’s office, her grades went from C’s and D’s to A’s and B’s and she went on to become an honor student.  She went on to become the head of an organization called Volunteers for Vision and helped screen several thousand children for the kinds of visual problems she experienced. 

As she noted in one of her speeches, “if the key to a better society is education, then the key to a better education is better vision. If you don’t have that key, you can’t open the door to a better life”.

Come back for more information on the link between juvenile delinquency and reading problems in part 2 of this article.

 Pat WymanPat Wyman is the best selling author of Instant Learning for Amazing Grades and a university instructor.

She is a reading specialist and legislative expert who testifies on the link between juvenile delinquency and reading problems.