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Vision and learning go hand in hand. Experts estimate that about 80% of the learning a child does is taken in visually. Adequate vision is critical for students to reach their full academic potential. Parents and teachers might not realize that when children are having difficulty in school – from understanding fractions to learning to read – it might be a sensory problem, and not a cognitive one.

Any vision problem that affects the way eyes function and how the brain processes visual data, limits a child’s ability to learn. It can be difficult for children to communicate their vision problems, because they assume how they see is normal and is what everyone else sees. For this reason, even in the absence of signs or complaints from the child, all children should have yearly eye health and vision comprehensive examinations with an eye doctor.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate a child is struggling to see clearly:

  • Eye rubbing, itchy, tearing, or burning eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Turned eye (strabismus)
  • Squinting or holding items close to eyes
  • Sitting close to watch T.V.
  • Tilting or head turning or covering one eye
  • Headaches
  • Skipping lines when reading

The above mentioned may be obvious, but there are also other signs linked to vision impairment that are not as obvious. They include:

  • Behavior issues
  • Dislike or avoidance of near work (e.g. reading)
  • Poor academic performance
  • Short attention span
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Daydreaming during home work
  • Difficulty identifying geometric shapes
  • Not finishing school assignments on time
  • Tracking while reading by using a finger or moving the head
  • Constant number, letter, or word reversal
  • Delayed learning of the alphabet
  • Difficulty remembering what was read

Children might be misdiagnosed with a learning disability when they actually have a vision problem. A child could even have both a learning disability and a vision-related problem, but without proper diagnosis, it can be challenging to treat either.

There are three types of learning-related vision problems. The first two are affected by visual input, while the third is influenced by visual integration and processing.

Refractive Problems and Eye Health

Farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism describe refractive or focusing problems. These can be rectified with glasses or contact lenses, and later in life potentially by laser eye surgery. Eye health problems on the other hand, can permanently reduce visual acuity (potential), which cannot be corrected by conventional refractive surgery, contact lenses, or eyeglasses alone, although they can be benefitted with the use of corrective vision devices (e.g. low vision aids).

Functional Problems

Refers to defects of functional skills that can cause double or blurry vision, strained eyes, and headaches, which can all adversely affect learning. The neurological control of specific eye functions is essential for retaining information. Fine eye movements are important for reading. Eye teaming (i.e. binocular vision) keeps sight in coordinated focus, and the accommodation system acts like a dynamic zoom, allowing the vision to be focused comfortably at many different viewing distances. Accommodative and vergence insufficiency both affect a person’s ability to see comfortably at near and to change focus from near to far, and conversely far to near. Such tasks are often done when taking notes in class, or doing homework, or watching presentations, both on monitors or on a stage.

Visual Perception Problems

Visual perception involves identifying what you see, understanding it, and being able to judge its importance. Being able to recognize words you have seen before and using your eyes and brain to form a mental picture of the words you read is an example of visual perception. Routine eye exams usually only evaluate for the first of the three categories. Optometrists who specialize in children’s optometry and vision therapy can administer exams and assess functional and visual perception problems.

Treatment for children diagnosed with learning-related vision problems consists of personalized, doctor-assisted vision therapy programs. Your child may also be prescribed special eyeglasses for full-time wear or for specific tasks like reading. In some instances, vision therapy and remedial learning activities might be combined to address your child’s learning challenges better. Keep in mind that children that have trouble learning may also suffer from emotional issues like low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. It is important to reassure your child that their learning-related vision problems are not a reflection of their intelligence or potential. Many successful people have overcome similar learning difficulties.

Important Points

On a final note, something should be stated about school vision screenings. These are offered to detect the children most at risk of vision difficulties but should never replace an annual comprehensive exam with an eye care specialist. Eye health is important to the future vision potential of children, and as the saying goes, 20/20 does not guarantee healthy eyes.

It is recommended to having your child’s first eye assessment at age 6 months, then at age 3 and every year thereafter. Two hours of outdoor activity per day is advisable to help prevent the onset or progression of nearsightedness in children. Amblyopia is another term for lazy eye, and must be detected and treated early in children’s visual development to prevent lifelong visual impairment and possibly vocational limitations. OHIP covers yearly eye exams for children up to and including the age of 19. Dr. Sciberras offers post-secondary students (aged 25 and under) a discount on their eye exam fees.

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