child visionAs a mother trying to determine why her child was struggling with reading and learning, Robin Benoit found it very difficult to locate answers.  According to Jillian’s fourth grade teacher, even though Jillian was very bright, her academic performance was lagging behind.  She had poor handwriting, left many of her class assignments unfinished, skipped words when she read out loud, would daydream during silent reading, and was consistently going to the restroom during math.


Jillian had been diagnosed with amblyopia (also known as lazy eye) but despite following the treatment prescribed by the ophthalmologist she continued to struggle with reading, spelling, and math. Her mom started searching the internet for information regarding vision and learning.  Her pediatrician and ophthalmologist were not supportive when Mrs. Benoit thought she found the answer to her daughter’s problem.  But she followed her heart and continued pushing forward to help Jillian. This push led Mrs. Benoit to optometric vision therapy and a developmental optometrist who was able to help Jillian.

The results from optometric vision therapy changed Jillian’s life, making it possible for her to learn and do many things she’d never done before. When they learned how widespread these types of vision problems are, Jillian and her mother decided to share their story by writing a book to help other parents who are struggling with reading and learning issues, Jillian’s Story:  How Vision Therapy Changed My Daughter’s Life.

Most parents don’t realize that undiagnosed and untreated vision disorders can cause tremendous difficulty with learning. In fact over 60% of children who struggle with learning have undiagnosed vision problems. Thanks to Jillian’s Story more parents are learning that their children, too, can be helped.

Mrs. Benoit was asked by the American Optometric Association to speak at their first ever School Readiness Summit: Focus on Vision held in Washington, DC. She shared her daughter’s story with attendees there, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and the American Federation of Teachers.  And her daughter, Jillian, shared a message via video, “Trust me when I say that it’s really hard to learn when you can’t see.”

According to information released by the American Federation of Teachers, “Even the most gifted students will struggle academically if they have trouble seeing the blackboard or focusing on a book. A tremendous amount of learning happens visually, so proper vision care is crucial to helping students reach their full potential, Every one of us has a role to play in providing our children with the best education possible.”

The five most common signs that a vision problem may be interfering with your student’s ability to read and learn are:

  1. Skips lines, rereads lines
  2. Poor reading comprehension
  3. Takes much longer doing homework than it should take
  4. Reverses letters like “b” into “d” when reading
  5. Has a short attention span with reading and schoolwork

Any one of these symptoms is a sign of a possible vision problem. A more in-depth symptoms checklist is available on COVD’s website.

Robin and Jillian Benoit have joined with the College of Optometrists in Vision Development in promoting its 16th Annual August is National Children’s Vision & Learning Month Campaign to help bring awareness to this vital issue.  Mrs. Benoit shares a special message with parents: “Parents need to trust their own instincts and understand the difference between a vision screening at a school or pediatrician’s office and a comprehensive eye exam.  Jillian had vision screenings twice in preschool and at two annual physicals at her pediatrician’s office.  All of the screenings and trained professionals missed the fact that she was legally blind in one eye.  If parents think there is a vision problem, there probably is. Just because the doctor you see says ‘everything is fine’ or ‘it’s just a learning disability,’ you still need to follow your heart and take action. The only way to be certain that a vision problem isn’t at the root of your child’s learning difficulties is to take them to an optometrist who diagnoses and treats binocular vision problems.  Ideally you would see an optometrist who also provides an in-office program of optometric vision therapy.”

“We would like to thank Mrs. Benoit and Jillian for helping us to spread the word,” states Dr. Bradley Habermehl, President of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development Research. According to Dr. Habermehl, “Research from all over the world continues to confirm that learning-related vision problems, such as convergence insufficiency and other binocular vision disorders, interfere with academic success.  A recent multidisciplinary study from Canada even demonstrated that children who have uncorrected hyperopia (a condition where you can see great far away, but have difficulty seeing up close such as is required for reading) show reduced performance on tests of letter and word recognition.  As we celebrate the 16th year of our campaign, we welcome parents, educators and professionals to join us in spreading the word that vision plays a vital role in our children’s education.”

For more information or to find a developmental optometrist near you visit


Karen James

Karen James, PhD is an educator, child development and parenting specialist a the IMPI, International Maternity and Parenting Institute.

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