At a glance
People with dyslexia have the same risk of vision problems as those without dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference, not a problem with the eyes.
Eye and vision problems don’t cause dyslexia, but they can co-occur in the same person.
If you or someone you know has dyslexia, you may wonder about the connection between how well someone sees and any trouble with reading. Do you just need an eye exam and glasses? Can someone have dyslexia and also have a problem with their eyes? Would vision therapy from an eye doctor help?
Here are common questions about vision and dyslexia, and answers to help.
Do eye and vision problems cause dyslexia?
Eye and vision problems don’t cause dyslexia. These are unrelated issues that may co-occur, meaning that a person can have both. Kids and adults with dyslexia are no more likely to have eye and vision problems than anyone else.
If someone is having trouble reading, though, an eye exam is a good idea. It’s important to rule out and correct vision problems that make reading hard. But people with dyslexia will still show signs of dyslexia even after their vision is corrected with glasses or eye exercises.
In rare cases, someone may have severe problems with visual perception, or . These issues can make reading difficult. But that trouble isn’t with vision itself. It’s a problem with how the brain recognizes details in visual images and processes what the eyes are seeing.
Is it true that people with dyslexia see letters backwards and jumbled up in words?
People often think of dyslexia as reading words backwards or seeing letters “floating” on the page. But those are very specific and usually short-lived problems. They happen when a person scans text differently because they struggle to words.
Studies have shown that our natural instinct is to focus first on the middle of something (like pictures or faces) and move outward. As kids, we’re taught to read and decode from left to right, top to bottom. This learning goes against the instinct to start in the middle.
Struggling readers may appear to be reading backwards as they work to make sense of what they’re seeing. For example, they may scan a page and read the word was as saw. But they’re not consistently reading backwards — starting at the right and moving left. They’re scanning the page.
It’s also not uncommon for people with dyslexia to confuse letters. That’s especially true if the letters look like mirror images of each other. (For example, q and p.) People with dyslexia need extra help to learn that these letters aren’t the same.
I’ve heard about “vision therapy.” Does that help with dyslexia?
Some people talk about vision therapy as a way to treat dyslexia. But there’s no scientific evidence that it helps. In fact, leading groups in the fields of vision and learning have stated that there’s not sufficient evidence to support vision therapy as a treatment for dyslexia. These groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
The main weaknesses in people with dyslexia have nothing to do with the eyes. They’re problems with language and visual representation of word forms (orthography) in the brain (not in the eyes).
People with dyslexia typically have challenges in three skill areas:
- Phonological awareness: causes trouble matching sounds to letters
- Rapid naming: makes it hard to recognize and name familiar letters and words
- Semantics: causes trouble with understanding the meaning of words of sentences
These skills aren’t based on the eyes, and they won’t improve with vision therapy. They improve when someone is taught those skills through explicit reading instruction.
On top of vision therapy, you may have also heard about tinted glasses or colored lenses for dyslexia. This isn’t considered a valid treatment for people with dyslexia.
Help with dyslexia
There are lots of strategies and interventions that can help kids and adults with the challenges that come from dyslexia. Learn about reading specialists and what they do. If your child has dyslexia, ask about specialized reading programs your school may be using.
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Glasses don’t “fix” dyslexia.
Leading professional organizations don’t support vision therapy as a treatment for dyslexia.
There are lots of strategies and interventions that do help people with dyslexia, like explicit reading instruction.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Nelson Dorta, PhD is a pediatric neuropsychologist and an assistant professor of medical psychology in child psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.