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Drugs, Drink and Vision

January 25, 1987

On Jan. 9, Dr. Jerry Donin suggested that in 10 years he would be reading (about) vision therapy as a treatment for prevention of drug abuse (View Letters). Perhaps he won't have to wait 10 years.

I have spent more than 25 years as a volunteer in the field of alcoholism and chemical dependency. I am also the mother of five children who all had varying degree of visual perception problems. As a result I read a lot of the literature in both fields and found that there is a body of evidence that indicates a connection between these two fields--whether it is physical or psychological in origin is still being studied.

It is not too hard to make the connection with bright youngsters who find early in their school life that they cannot do what others are doing. Reading and simple mathematical functions are beyond them, although they can learn other things easily. Because they are bright, early primers can be a snap--they fake it--telling stories from the pictures; memorizing simple sentences. Addition and subtraction are easy. But when the stories become more complicated, and mathematics involves columns of numbers, the errors become compounded and the failures begin.

When teachers or parents catch the problem in second grade--probably the earliest stage at which it becomes clearly evident--and therapy begins, those children understand their problem and begin working to learn new techniques to keep up with their classmates. When the problem is overlooked, the children may begin to act out, become anxious, angry and frequently disruptive. As teens they find that self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs relieves their discomfort.

The high rates of addictive behavior and low reading scores of teens and young adults in prison certainly bear serious examination. I don't believe that teaching reading to such prisoners and delinquents will solve all of the social problems that resulted from visual-perception difficulties, but ignoring them will only compound them. Recognizing that some of their problems were based on a treatable, correctable physical disability is certainly an easy step to take to rebuild self-esteem.

I would like to see all children tested at kindergarten or first-grade level, before reading is introduced, so therapy can begin before issues of failure and low self-esteem arise. Then perhaps we may find lower rates of addiction and juvenile delinquency 10 years down the road.

MARCIA COHEN SPIEGEL

Rolling Hills Estates

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