Optometrist shares vision
Health: Dr. Charles Boulet's book to help struggling students
Wednesday, Aug 01, 2012 11:53 am
A local optometrist hopes the publication of his book will bring him one step closer to shedding light on an issue to which many people are blind.
Diamond Valley Vision Care owner Dr. Charles Boulet’s book “Nearsighted White Kids: Why Some Children Will Never Succeed in School” addresses the connection between visual impediments and learning in the classroom. Boulet said he hopes to have the book published and available to teachers and occupational therapists.
“It’s a fascinating field that is very much ignored by mainstream medicine,” he said. “‘The Handbook of School Neuro-psychology’ recognizes that before you can undertake any significant neuro-psychology testing of a child with a reading problem you should first see if there is some sort of problem with vision.”
This issue has been Boulet’s passion since obtaining his Doctorate in Developmental Optometry four years ago through the Pacific University College of Optometry, one of the top behavioral vision colleges in the United States.
“There are a lot of kids that I see in my clinic who have been identified as struggling in class for one reason or another, or having trouble with behavior,” he said. “More often than not vision plays a moderate to significant role in how they are doing.” As an optometrist, Boulet addresses vision from a developmental perspective and ensures all aspects of his patients’ vision are functioning properly.
Vision is not just eyesight so he focuses on other parts of the eye as well.
“I want to know how well the kid’s left and right parts of the body coordinate, gross motor behavior and balance,” he said. “I also look at eye movement control and limitations that way. It will capture many of the issues present that will not be identified by a doctor.”
Throughout his education as a developmental specialist, Boulet has learned nearsighted students have an advantage in school. They can easily focus on material close up and studies have shown they excel better academically and have better paying jobs as adults.
As for far-sighted children, school can be a struggle without the proper optical treatment, he said.
“Far-sighted kids must engage their focusing system all the time,” he said. “The closer the target is the more effort it takes. There is a physical strain you feel if you are always working to make the focus clear.”
This can result in everything from muscle strains to headaches, he said. This is where the problem often occurs.
“Working close for that kid is very uncomfortable,” he said. “The muscle in the eye can clamp down and it can be downright painful and uncomfortable. Difficult vision can make reading and handling the fine detail work difficult.”
The discomfort a far-sighted child experiences can result in lost attention, refusal to complete an assignment and frustration, said Boulet.
As a result, parents are often told their child has attention issues or a learning disability, which can be the start of numerous behavior and psychological testing as they search for the source of the problem, he said.
This he has seen first-hand as a teacher before entering the optometry profession.
“By Grade 10 to find out that it could have all been avoided, how would you feel?” he said. “There is a huge emotional cost associated with doing all of this testing and special programming. It doesn’t take long for the kid and parents to internalize that something’s wrong.”
That’s where Boulet’s book comes in.
“What I’m promoting through the book is that unless you address the basic psychological needs of the kid, a lot of the testing they are going to be doing after the fact is not going to be very effective or necessary,” he said. “We’re subjecting these kids to some pretty tedious and invasive testing.”
Boulet said he is concerned while eyesight is tested in doctors’ offices, muscle issues are often overlooked.
“You could have very clear eyesight and you might have muscle control problems which interfere with your ability to read,” he said. “The muscle issues are never looked for in schools or in doctors’ offices and still they plague many kids in classrooms in the province.”
With this information slowly getting out to the public, Boulet seeks to make visual neuro-rehabilitation more accessible to people through professional training for development specialists, speaking engagements, conventions and his book.
His ultimate goal is to see visual testing mandated by the government for children entering kindergarten.
“As a teacher and student of psychology it blows me away that we do not insist on checking vision for children who are entering school,” he said. “I feel a particular urgency because I know what’s going on in the classroom and thousands of kids need the help and are simply not getting it.”
Boulet has seen the results of what vision testing can accomplish for far-sighted students.
“When you do a visual assessment and find there is something wrong you can fix quickly, usually we can get the kid on track very soon,” he said. “If they go ahead and follow the instructions they do notice a change in not only how the child behaves but how they report they feel.”
Boulet has been asked to contribute to a university textbook for educators and psychologists on learning behavior alongside two psychologists.
“My goal is to raise a lot of awareness around this, primarily in Alberta,” he said. “I want to be able to have parents avoid unnecessary testing and discomfort and exposure for their children. I want to make sure they are running optimally in school.”
Boulet has degrees in neuro-psychology and education from the University of Alberta. He is also the lead developer and writer behind the education-based blog LearningManagement.ca.