What is the relation between vision therapy and ADHD?  Learning disabilities and ADHD are often resolved when a child has vision therapy.  If a child has a reading problem and is unable to make meaning from what they see on the page, or even has trouble throwing or hitting a ball, their symptoms can look just like ADHD. 

There is little doubt that we’re both over-diagnosing ADHD-using too many pills-and at the same time missing some children and teens with ADHD behavior that could benefit from some type of therapy.

Vision Therapy and ADHDvision therapy and ADHD

I recently received an email from a concerned mother whose 8 year old daughter is dealing with a number of learning difficulties in school. I’ve decided to share the email exchange in hopes that it may help others with similar stories.

Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2011 5:44 AM
Subject: All Things ADHD Contact: Not sure what to do?

To: Dr. Frank
From: Melissa

I spoke with Pat Wyman at HowToLearn.com when I ordered the I Read I Succeed Program.

Pat suggested I speak with you about the vision therapy and ADHD diagnosis for my daughter.

My 8 year old daughter has had a difficult school experience. She repeated one grade and was diagnosed with binocular vision disorder. She underwent vision therapy for 32 wks 2 x week.  She had an evaluation toward the summer and was told that maybe we need to take a break because she was not making any gains. 

We did some work at home as much as we could in the summer. School has started again. She is in second grade with difficulty again.  Difficulty concentrating, hypersensitivity to sound and difficulty working independently. So I took her back for an evaluation. His thought was maybe we should consider medication so she could concentrate on what was necessary to complete. 

I have an appointment with a doctor to see if there are physical issues. I cant see a psychologist until January. Her school is making modifications for her. We’re not making any gains with additional modifications, or work at home. 

It is like she is stuck.  What should I do? 


Hello Melissa,

I can sense you and your daughter are having a really tough time. Children who suffer from visual integration disorders and continue to have classroom-learning problems should be evaluated for other sensory processing disorders. These things “tend to run together.”

For example, your daughter may have hypersensitive hearing, temperature intolerance, or an abnormal response to touch. Each of these in combination with a vision processing disorder might cause continued academic and behavioral problems.

Before slapping a label of ADHD on top of all of her other labels, I’d have her hearing tested, check for touch hypersensitivity, take a look at her blood profiles, and explore classroom options for children with severe visual dysfunction.

Binocular vision not only limits what a child “can see”, but severely restricts what they do see. In other words, your daughter may see very well as long as what she is supposed to see is directly in her field of vision. But…that’s not the only way children learn in the classroom. They must be able to look forward yet also see things that occur just at the outside limits of their visual field in order to pick up the little visual clues that allow them to effectively interact with their surroundings.

Think of it this way…how many times have you realized someone was playing a trick on you just because you saw someone else in the room roll their eyes, snicker or give a smirk – all out of the corner of your eye? If you didn’t catch any of those little visual clues that “tell you it was a joke”, you’d take what happened seriously and then be ridiculed as you became the blunt of the joke.

All of that would be ….frustrating…embarrassing…cause you to get upset, increase your impulsivity, destroy your attention span…right? It’s hard to focus when you think everyone else believes you are dumb or brain damaged! 

I would have the tests done. If all are normal, including lead levels, thyroid studies and vitamin B12 levels, you might consider this…40% of all children with visual sensory processing disorders also suffer from ADHD. Fortunately, in many of these cases, attention span improvement occurs with good behavior coaching and a small dose of a non-stimulant ADHD medication. 

Good Luck!
Dr. Frank

If your child is discovered to have normal vision, hearing, and speech; you should rule out all of the other medical-social-psychological things that can mimic or act just like ADHD. You’ll find new and up-to-date information on the more than 50 things that can mimic ADHD in the book “Mistaken for ADHD”. 

Frank Barnhill M.D.Dr. Frank Barnhill is a family physician with 29 years experience. He is the author of Mistaken for ADHD which lists the 52 conditions that can mimic ADHD. Visit his website MistakenForADHD.com for more information on the link between vision therapy and ADHD.