Reading Ability and Behavior Problems

Written By Guest Blogger: Jessica Zwilling COVT

I recently completed an online violence prevention workshop as required by New York State since I teach music in a school setting.  The course was informative and I am glad to see that it is a requirement for licensed professionals and other careers that involve working with children.  I was especially happy to see a section concerning reading ability and behavior problems.  See the excerpt below.

Many studies have been performed which support the fact that there is a direct relationship between problems in reading and aggressive, antisocial behaviors.   Reading is the basic foundation for success in most academic subjects and, therefore, has a direct impact on overall attitude towards school and self-esteem.  As such, difficulty in reading results in a variety of academic, social, emotional and psychological problems.  Especially when combined with other potential negative factors (such as illiterate parents or parents with little involvement in a child’s education), reading difficulty can lead to disruptive classroom behavior, grade retention, truancy and other antisocial behaviors.  Research has concluded that those with reading difficulties include:

  • Over 80% of adolescents who get into trouble with the law
  • Over 70% of prison inmates
  • Over 50% of juveniles with a substance abuse problem

Furthermore, adolescents with reading problems are 3 times more likely to fight at school.  A child who can read by the third grade is unlikely to be incarcerated or arrested.  However, getting to that level is not always easy.  If a child falls behind at any time and does not receive the special reading instruction he or she requires, the sad truth is that the child often never catches up, even if the difficulty begins at a very early age.  Competence in reading, by grade 4, is one of the best predictors of graduation from high school and future employment and success.

Reading difficulty leads to a lack of commitment and lack of interest in academics and often to a resentment of school and an overall negative attitude.  That is why it is important to identify and assist any student in your classroom that may require help with reading.  By offering your help, guidance and support to students with reading problems, you will be giving them the tools to succeed in today’s society and perhaps even saving them from a life of violence, crime or drugs.

This is not new information for most of us in the optometric community, but it is always good to be reminded of these facts.  Honestly, statistics like those have a sobering effect on me.  Seventy percent of prison inmates?  (Present that information to parents that are hesitant to begin a vision therapy program!)  Seventy percent of prison inmates.  How many of them have reading difficulties due to an undetected or unresolved vision disorder?  And how many might have avoided prison if their reading difficulty had been resolved with vision therapy at a young age?  Obviously, there are many factors that come into play when an individual becomes a criminal, and clearly, it is not always due to a binocular vision problem.  However, the correlation is real.  Even if just a handful of them had early vision intervention, some prevention is better than none.

We get so caught up with many of our patients with “normal” lifestyles.  They have goals such as, reading faster, finishing homework earlier, and improving their batting average.  In 19 years, I have never had goals that read “to stay out of prison.”  It is, however, a very real situation with many young kids.  Kids growing up in poverty and/or exposed to drug abuse and crime are more likely to become delinquent.  Now add a vision disorder to that mixture, and they have little chance of academic success, and in turn, little chance of avoiding a life of crime.

So, of course, since the workshop reading material did not mention anything about helping teachers to detect a vision problem which may be the cause of a reading difficulty, I got all fired up and starting sending letters to different people with the New York State Department of Education.  I wrote that making educators and other professionals aware of the link between reading ability and behavior problems was a good start, but it is not enough.  I wrote that most students with a reading difficulty also have a vision disorder, often correctable through interventions provided by a Developmental Optometrist.  I also added that the research has been available for many years proving the link between vision disorders and juvenile delinquency.

Albany loves statistics, so I sighted two successful studies that were done to prove such a link.

A 1987-1989 study by Dr. Paul Harris, of Baltimore, of 132 juvenile delinquents revealed that only two were able to pass all areas of the visual perception tests. Click the link for more information.

“The Prevalence Of Visual Conditions In A Population Of Juvenile Delinquents”

A study done by Dr. Stanley Kaseno of San Bernardino, CA, of juvenile offenders from 1980 to 1990 showed that 96 percent had some type of previously undiagnosed visual problem.

“The Visual Anatomy of the Juvenile Delinquent” – Academic Therapy, Vol 21(1), Sep 1985, 99-105

I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one.  I’ll report back if and when I get a reply from Albany.  Even if it perks the interest of only one individual, I think it was worth the time.


Posted on October 19, 2014, in From My Perspective... and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Sarafina Mannino

    Wonderfully written and informative! I hope for a day when the New York school districts implement mandatory developmental vision screening programs for all students and staff! The school district can only benefit from accepting responsibility to inform our community about visual dysfunctions and the preventive visual hygiene and developmental techniques a parent should instill within the home. New parents can benefit from a preschool entry orientation that outlines ways to foster development and detect symptoms early when faced with an underlying visual dysfunction.

    Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if a developmental visual evaluation was an intergrated part of our school’s reading program schedule? Think of how much easier learning would be for our children and our teachers?

    Hoping for progression,



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