By Dr Chad Roberts, OD
Current research shows that about 20 percent of school-aged children have undetected vision problems that hinder their progress in school. Considering that approximately 80 percent of everything a child learns is through their eyes, it is an understatement to say that healthy eyesight is crucial to proper development.
A child’s visual system has a lot more to do with the way he or she processes information than with how well they actually see. The visual system is complex, involving the combined effort of more than twenty visual abilities that utilize 65 percent of all neurological pathways to the brain. A problem in any of these areas can seriously affect a child’s ability to process information.
In order for a child to learn properly, three different parts of her vision must be working correctly together: The first part is the condition of the eye, which pertains to eye health, visual acuity, and refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. The second part is the function of the eye. This refers to how well the eyes are able to focus, and how they move both individually and as a pair. If a child’s eyes show weakness in these areas, that child can experience double vision, eyestrain, headaches, and difficulty paying attention. The third part of the equation is a child’s visual perception. Visual perception relates to everything that is seen, and how the child is able to identify and link it to previously stored information. This affects how well children are able to recognize words or pictures they have previously seen, or the ability to make a mental picture of words they read
Parents and teachers should watch children for the following signs and symptoms of learning-related vision problems:
• holding reading materials very close to the eyes
• tilting the head while reading
• omitting words when reading aloud
• frequently losing their place while reading
• spending too much time on homework
• falling behind in class
• referring to themselves as stupid
• hating school
• a lack of motivation
• a drop in scholastic or athletic performance
• double vision
• blurry vision
• frequent headaches
• frequent eye rubbing
• poor eye-hand coordination
• constantly looking down when copying words
• moving the entire head when reading, not just the eyes
As with any disease, it is particularly important for those with a family history of ambylopia (lazy eye), or strabismus (deviating eyes), to check for any of these warning signs. If a child demonstrates one or more of these signs or symptoms, he or she may be suffering from a vision related disorder.
All children should have their vision tested each year. A child doesn’t know that having problems seeing across the room, seeing double, or not being able to focus on things up close, is abnormal. It is important, though, not to confuse a school vision screening with an eye examination. School vision screenings simply determine how well your child sees an eye chart from twenty feet away. A screening may show that your child has 20/20 vision, but the best way to diagnose and prevent vision learning disorders is with a comprehensive examination on a regular basis with a qualified Doctor of Optometry.