Learning-Related Vision Problems

There’s no question that good vision is important for learning. Experts say more than 80% of what your child is taught in school is presented to them visually.

To make sure your child has the visual skills they need for school, the first step is to make sure your child has 20/20 eyesight. You’ll want to ensure any nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism is fully corrected with glasses or contact lenses. But there are other, less obvious learning-related vision problems you should know about as well.

Good vision is more than 20/20 visual acuity

Your child can have “20/20” eyesight and still have vision problems that can affect their learning and classroom performance. Visual acuity (how well your child can see letters on a wall chart) is just one aspect of good vision, and it’s not even the most important one. Many nearsighted kids may have trouble seeing the board in class, but they read well and excel in school.

Other important visual skills needed for learning include:

  • Eye movement skills – How smoothly and accurately your child can move their eyes across a printed page in a textbook.
  • Eye focusing abilities – How well they can change focus from far to near and back again (for copying information from the board, for example).
  • Eye teaming skills – How well your child’s eyes work together as a synchronized team (to converge for proper eye alignment for reading, for example).
  • Binocular vision skills – How well your child’s eyes can blend visual images from both eyes into a single, three-dimensional image.
  • Visual perceptual skills – How well your child can identify and understand what they see, judge its importance, and associate it with previous visual information stored in their brain.
  • Visual-motor integration – The quality of your child’s eye-hand coordination, which is important not only for sports, but also for legible handwriting and the ability to efficiently copy written information from a book or chalkboard.
  • Deficiencies in any of these important visual skills can significantly affect your child’s learning ability and school performance.

Many kids have vision problems that affect learning

Many kids have undetected learning-related vision problems. According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), one study indicates 13% of children between the ages of 9 and 13 suffer from moderate to severe convergence insufficiency (an eye teaming problem that can affect reading performance). The study also concluded as many as one in four school-age children may have at least one learning-related vision problem.

Signs and symptoms of learning-related vision problems

There are many signs and symptoms of learning-related vision disorders, including:

  • Blurred distance or near vision, particularly after reading or other close work
  • Frequent headaches or eye strain
  • Difficulty changing focus from distance to near and back
  • Double vision, especially during or after reading
  • Avoidance of reading
  • Easily distracted when reading
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Loss of place, repetition, and/or omission of words while reading
  • Letter and word reversals
  • Poor handwriting
  • Hyperactivity or impulsiveness during class
  • Poor overall school performance

If your child exhibits one or more of these signs or symptoms and is having problems in school, call us to schedule a comprehensive children’s vision exam.

Comprehensive children’s vision exam

A children’s vision exam includes tests performed in a routine eye exam, plus additional tests to detect learning-related vision problems. These extra tests may include an assessment of eye focusing, eye teaming, and eye movement abilities. Also, depending on the type of problems your child is having, we may recommend other testing, either in our office or with a children’s vision and/or vision development specialist.

Vision therapy

If it turns out your child has a learning-related vision problem that cannot be corrected with regular glasses or contact lenses, then special reading glasses or vision therapy may help. Vision therapy is a program of eye exercises and other activities specifically tailored for each patient to improve their vision skills.

Vision and learning disabilities

A child who is struggling in school could have a learning-related vision problem, a learning disability or both. Vision therapy is a treatment for vision problems; it does not correct a learning disability. However, children with learning disabilities may also have vision problems that are contributing to their difficulties in the classroom.

After your child’s comprehensive vision exam, we will advise you about whether a program of vision therapy would be helpful. If we don’t provide the services we believe your child needs, we will refer you to a children’s vision specialist or education/learning specialist who does.

How to tell if Your Child Needs Glasses

Keeping your children happy and healthy is a parent’s number one concern. It is easy to tell when your child feels ill and needs to see a doctor, but how do you know if your child is having difficulties seeing?

There are common signs that your child is having difficulty seeing. If your child is showing one or more of the below signs, you should contact your eye doctor for an examination.

Avoiding activities?

The first way to tell if your child has a vision problem is when they won’t take part in fun activities such as coloring, reading or making things with their hands. Although every child has certain activities they dislike due to personal preferences – a child who decides to sit out while their friends play with bricks, coloring books and games may be suffering from poor vision.

Tired eyes?

Being a child can be exhausting; all that running around in the yard, playing with friends and making hideouts out of bedding would cause anyone to be tired. But there is a line between when your child should be rubbing their eyes due to tiredness (around naptime or bedtime) and when they may be feeling discomfort in their eyes. A child who rubs their eyes, or has watery or red eyes on more than one occasion, may also be struggling to see.

Sitting too close to TV and games consoles?

Another warning sign – and usually the most obvious one – is when your child turns on the TV and sits too close to the screen. In the average living room the TV may be approximately 5 meters away from your couch; an acceptable distance. If you see your child sitting very close to the screen, you may have a problem.

Headaches and frowning?

It’s normal for the occasional bump and bruise as your child explores their world and is active in the classroom. But if your child walks around rubbing her head regularly, complaining of a headache or squinting around bright lights – she may have a vision problem. When we have poor eyesight we find it hard to focus on objects either close up or at a distance. If you need a visual aid but don’t use one, your eyes work overtime to try and focus on that object. This causes  muscles in the back of the eye to tense up, resulting in headaches over the eyes.

Lack of concentration?

Another way to tell if your child has a vision problem is their inability to focus on the task in hand. Those same muscles are working overtime to focus, which can cause your child to feel restless and uncomfortable. The result is them not paying attention for long periods of time at school or at home.

What to do: 

If you feel your child may have a vision problem, and she exhibits one or more of the signs mentioned above, it is really important that you take them to an optometrist as soon as possible. Speak to your child about your concerns and explain that an eye test is not painful. If it turns out that your child does need glasses, gently tell them that this is the case and remember that wearing glasses is not a bad thing. There are many glasses styles available for kids, so not only will they look fashionable and cool – they will also be more comfortable in the classroom and participating in activities.