John is not really dull! But it’s probably not down to his eyesight either…


“John is not really dull – he may only need his eyes examined.”

Well, they got it half right; John isn’t dull, but he likely doesn’t have a vision problem either.

Published in 1937, this public health poster recommends eye examinations for children who are having difficulty learning. It shows a woman (teacher? mother?) holding an eye chart in front of an unhappy boy who is trying to read a book.

Given that this was 80 years ago, there is much to admire here — the poster educates parents and teachers that reading difficulties are not related to intelligence.

I also love that the artist shows John’s emotional reaction to what is going on around him. He looks dismayed, and probably with good reason.

How many of us can relate? Me for sure. In the 1970s, my poor worried mom took me for vision testing at the recommendation of the school. The test showed no problem with my eys…the cause of my reading difficulty deemed a mystery for more than 30 years.

Vision testing for dyslexia, From Life Magazine, 1944

It was commonly believed that reading disabilities were caused by vision problems. This has since been disproven.

The Joint statement by the American of Academy of Opthomology states that: “Vision problems can interfere with the process of learning; however, vision problems are not the cause of primary dyslexia or learning disabilities. Scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses for improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions.”

I don’t personally have any problems with visual aids, such as coloured overlays, that may assist reading. Some swear by readable fonts and other ways that may make reading easier for dyslexics. I use a pencil when I read to keep track of where I am on the page and to make notes. If something works for you, go for it!

While helpful for some, these aids shouldn’t be sold as a “cure” or “fix” for dyslexia.

As for vision testing — yes! All kids should have their eyes checked regularly! But not for a dyslexia diagnosis.

What is critical is early identification and effective, evidence-based instruction.

Given all of our knowledge about dyslexia and how to best teach reading, here’s the question that we are STILL asking:

Why is it that John [and Jane] still can’t read?

Read more about vision and dyslexia

Joint statement by the American of Academy of Opthomology

FAQs About Vision and Dyslexia from Understood

Dyslexia is not a vision problem (New Scientist)

Vision Therapy for Dyslexia: Smoke and Mirrors (Dyslexia Help, University of Michigan)

Viral Controversies in Dyslexia (IDA)

What works

Dyslexia testing

Evidence-based reading instruction

Dyslexia friendly style guide, British Dyslexia Association


This poster was published in 1937 as part of the US Work Projects Administration Art Project (a government project conceived to support artists during the Depression of the 1930s). This particular poster was sponsored by W.H. Runcie, M.D., Health Officer in the Town of Hempstead, New York. It is catalogued in the Library of Congress Work Projects Administration Poster Collection.


    1. lostandfoundbooks

      Hi Cynthia! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, sadly, this is quite typical even today. And it’s even hard when you consider intersectional issues. Learning disability + race + socio-economic status. These kids are streamed out of academic courses, when likely they just needed more support at school. ;-(

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cynthia Reyes

        You are so right!! We talk with many children, parents, teachers and educational psychologists when we go on tour with the Myrtle the Purple Turtle books. We also talk with them before publishing each book. We hear about these things.


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