Every child should have every opportunity to reach their full potential, especially in school! As adults, we should do everything possible to make sure a child’s love for learning is not stifled by any means. But 1 out of every 10 children struggles with reading and learning due to undiagnosed vision problems, which is five million children in the US alone. Most of these vision problems go undetected if a child has only had a basic vision screening.
The College of Optometrists in Vision Development says that these typical vision screenings can miss up to 50% of vision problems. These statistics might be shocking, but that is all the more reason to advocate for requiring comprehensive eye exams by a developmental optometrist for all school-aged children.
Learning and vision are so intimately related that approximately 80% of learning is visual. By vision, I do not mean just seeing clearly. Seeing clearly is just one out of 17 visual skills needed for academic success. In fact, oftentimes kids who have a learning-related vision disorder have 20/20 vision. There are three types of learning-related vision disorders: refractive (acuity, sharpness of vision as measured by an eye chart), functional (neurological control of eye movements), and perceptual (understanding and identifying what you see). The visual skills needed for successful learning according to COVD include:
- Eye movement control
- Simultaneous focus at far
- Sustaining focus at far
- Simultaneous focus at near
- Sustaining focus at near
- Simultaneous alignment at far
- Sustaining alignment at far
- Simultaneous alignment at near
- Sustaining alignment at near
- Central vision (visual acuity)
- Peripheral vision
- Depth awareness
- Color perception
- Gross visual-motor
- Fine visual-motor
- Visual perception
- Visual integration
You might start suspecting your child has a learning-related vision disorder if they are very intelligent yet are still struggling in school. A learning-related vision disorder can present similar to attention disorders, learning disorders, laziness, and an aversion to reading and learning. Children are all too often misdiagnosed as having one of these because the symptoms are so similar to a vision problem.
Symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Skips or rereads lines
- Loses place when reading
- Doesn’t like to read
- Prefers to be read to
- Cannot write notes from the board fast enough
- Difficulty remembering what has been read
- Difficulty paying attention
- Number/ letter reversals such as b, d, p, and q
- Homework takes longer than it should
It is hard to imagine trying to understand what you are reading, remembering what you read, and then answering questions about what you read if you are spending the majority of the time trying to decipher every individual word. Those with vision problems thus cannot visualize the words, see a story in their head, or quickly process the text as a whole.
If your child is experiencing this, you might notice that they tend to verbalize most things instead of using visualization skills. Vision not only affects the processing of words and numbers but also handwriting. The visual system guides in handwriting through an understanding of spatial concepts, laterality/directionality, and gross motor skills.
Any one of the aforementioned symptoms is enough to hold a child back from reaching their full potential, especially as they get older, the print gets smaller, and the reading demands increase. But a learning-related vision problem does not only affect academic success but also acts as a ripple effect throughout their entire life. These issues may cause children emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. The American Optometric Association Clinical Practice Guidelines mentions that “Vision disorders that occur in childhood may manifest as problems well into adulthood, affecting an individual’s level of education, employment opportunities, and social interactions.”
At The Center for Vision Development, we strongly encourage getting help as soon as a problem is noticed! We go to great lengths to ensure that a child does not go through their life hating school and learning. For some patients, we write accommodation letters to teachers so they have a better understanding of how a student’s vision is impacting academic performance. Based on the doctor’s assessment of a child’s visual abilities and anticipated classroom demands, we offer recommendations to assist in the classroom.
If asked, we make phone calls or email back and forth with teachers and tutors. We can send copies of home therapy activities to whoever is assisting the child in addition to the parents. We even encourage bringing in homework and incorporating it into the therapy plan!
If you suspect you or your child may be experiencing these symptoms, take our symptoms quiz and/or request an appointment before the new school year!
-Emily Thompson, Vision Therapist