Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
August is National Children’s Vision & Learning Month. As teachers busily prepare their classrooms and parents gather school supplies and backpacks to equip their children for the new academic year, I often wonder as an optometrist and a mom how many schoolchildren have been checked to determine if one of their most important assets for higher learning is intact. I am referring to a child’s vision.
Our vision is the primary way we gather information about the world around us. In fact, 80 percent of learning occurs through the visual system. Without good vision, many aspects of our lives are affected. But what is not commonly known is how poor vision can play a large part in poor academic and sports performances, in addition to causing primary learning disabilities.
Many parents expect children to complain when they have poor vision, just as they would with a toothache. But the truth is that children cannot possibly know what good vision is if all they have known their entire lives is blurry vision. That is normal to them.
Vision, however, can be as personal as someone’s color preference. A person’s brain will make abnormal adaptations to poor vision to accommodate and achieve better ability to see. For the most part, these adaptations to poor-quality vision are not even known by the child or his or her parents.
Parents often expect school screenings and pediatric examinations to affirm that their child’s vision is OK. But these screenings in general can only catch very gross vision issues, such as high myopia (nearsightedness) or amblyopia (lazy eye).
These screenings cannot detect learning difficulties that are attributed to poor vision. Problems in eye coordination, eye focusing, eye tracking, visual perception and integration (how visual information is processed) play an important role in academic performance. However, they are not assessed in a typical school or pediatric vision screening. Viewing the eye chart and reading a few letters or shapes correctly does not equate to a good visual system.
Good vision is learned, and learning good vision can directly affect one’s ability to assess his or her environment. Famous athletes often receive vision training to improve their performance in their respective sport.
How would you know if your child has a vision problem? Check for the following problems that may extend from an underperforming visual system within a child.
• Complaints of blurry vision
• Frequent squinting
• Frequent eye rubbing
• Closing an eye when reading
• Reading for a short time before getting tired
• Poor reading comprehension
• Headaches when reading
• Losing place or skipping words when reading
• Short attention span
• Difficulty recognizing letters or numbers
• Letter or number reversal
• Red eyes after reading for a short time
• Poor copying skills
• Unable to see 3D images
Aside from the symptoms above, when a child is diagnosed with a learning disability, whether it is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, dyslexia or even autism, it is paramount that a vision assessment is among the first evaluations performed.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Children’s Eye Center at the University of San Diego discovered a close relationship between convergence insufficiency (inability of eyes to turn toward each other) and ADHD.
Children should undergo a full eye exam no later than kindergarten. An optometrist should closely review every aspect of the visual system, including focusing, tracking and binocularity skills (how well two eyes work together as a team) to prepare a child for school. Children should have eye exams at least once a year from that time on.
In the meantime, keep your child’s eyes healthy by reducing video screen time and increasing family time outdoors. The eyes are part of the body and a window to your child’s learning. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle will encourage good vision and healthy learning.