How Are ADHD and Vision Problems Related? Top 6 Q&As

Dr. Russel Lazarus, December 19, 2021

A study published Optometry and Vision Science (May, 2016) found that children with vision problems are 200% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. 

Researchers looked at 75,000 students and found that 15.6% of those with vision problems had also been diagnosed with ADHD. In contrast, only 8.3% of students without vision problems had been diagnosed with ADHD.

The rate of ADHD diagnosis in children with vision problems is almost 2 to 1.

So what is the connection between ADHD and vision issues? Here are our top 6 Q & As.

Q1: What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition characterized by difficulty with attention, hyperactivity and/or impulse control. Symptoms can be mainly focused on  difficulty paying attention, fidgeting, reduced concentration, and often, learning difficulties.

Symptoms of ADHD may include:

  • Inability to wait for the whole question before rushing to answer
  • Difficulty staying seated in one place when required
  • Inability to stop talking
  • Difficulty paying attention to fine details when working
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities

Q2: Can ADHD affect my child’s eyes?

Most healthcare professionals do not believe that ADHD directly impacts a child’s visual acuity, such as 20/20 sight.

However research has shown a heightened risk of the following visual conditions in people with ADHD:

Doctors have noticed that children with specific visual problems are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

In cases where a child has both an accurate diagnosis of ADHD and vision problems, their vision problems can compound the symptoms of ADHD.

Experts theorize that the extra effort required to focus on and understand their world visually leaves a child with less energy to devote to executive functioning, such as organization and follow-through on assigned work.

SEE RELATED: Can Vision Problems be Misdiagnosed as ADHD?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, be sure to schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you.

Find a Vision Therapy Eye Doctor Near You

Q3: Can vision problems cause a misdiagnosis of ADHD?

Yes! Parents and teachers who see hyperactive or inattentive behaviors in a student rarely consider that they could be caused by eye health or vision problems.

Many teachers and parents may not realize that functional vision disorders, much like ADHD, can make it very hard for a child to pay attention in class or finish their schoolwork on time.

Visual skills deficits can negatively affect a child’s executive function: the skills and thought processes involved in organizing their work, planning and paying attention in class, as well as their reading comprehension and fluency.

Students with vision issues may have a harder than usual time with reading as well. This can lead to frustration and anger, which can manifest itself in the form of outbursts and disruption in class.

These behaviors are often mistaken for signs of ADHD

It is important to note that even though misdiagnosis of ADHD can occur based on its shared symptoms with various vision problems, one does not necessarily rule out the other.

It is common for children to have both vision issues and ADHD.

Q4: Do school vision screenings detect vision issues that might be mistaken for ADHD?

Unfortunately No.

School vision screenings are usually not equipped to check your child’s vision beyond simple-to-detect issues like myopia (nearsightedness) or severe amblyopia.

Vision problems, such as strabismus (eye turns), eye tracking problems, convergence insufficiency or focusing problems can all seriously and negatively affect your child’s success in school.

All of these can cause your child to display symptoms mirroring those of ADHD, and none of them can be detected in a routine school vision screening.

Q5: What can I do to help my child with vision problems?

Vision therapy has been shown to help children with vision problems to perform better in school.

In a 2012 study published in Optometry and Vision Science (Volume 89, No. 10), researchers found that after vision therapy treatment for convergence insufficiency, children with ADHD reported less vision-related symptoms.

They also reported having an easier time with reading after treatment.

Vision therapy may also reduce the symptoms of ADHD. 

Once a child’s vision issues have been addressed, this should make it easier to perform many important learning tasks, including reading, writing and taking notes.

When a child doesn’t need to work as hard on visual tasks, they have more energy and attention to give for managing their ADHD.

Q6: When should I speak to an eye doctor about my child’s vision problems?

You should speak to an eye doctor if your child is consistently having trouble with reading, learning or remaining focused at home or in class.

Primary care physicians and pediatricians may encourage parents to bring their children in for a comprehensive eye exam to check for vision problems that might exacerbate  the symptoms of ADHD.

If vision problems are diagnosed, vision therapy is highly recommended. It will help minimize the impact of both ADHD and vision issues on your child’s functioning at school and at home.

LEARN MORE: Vision Therapy for ADHD

Schedule an eye exam with an experienced eye doctor to see if correction of any visual problems may change your child’s life.

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD a comprehensive eye exam with an eye doctor may be part of the effective solutions for your child.

For a child with ADHD, correcting any visual problems could be part of the solution you have been searching for.