Understanding Vision and Learning

Current research indicates that approximately one out of four children has vision disorders that interfere with their ability to learn.  Even if a child passes the standard basic vision exam with “20/20", it is still possible to have difficulty with how the eyes work together or function when trying to read or learn. 

20/20 Does Not Mean Perfect Vision

20/20 Isn't EverythingThis is because 20/20 does not mean perfect vision or normal vision, as most of the general public believes. “20/20” is a measure of only ONE of the visual skills required for academic success, known as "visual acuity". It is strictly a measure of the ability to see the letters on the eye chart from a distance of twenty feet.

Although seeing clearly in the distance is certainly important, there are a host of other visual functions aside from visual acuity that must function optimally, in order for an individual to function in life. These other visual skills and abilities are vital to the learning process, yet are not tested for in routine eye exams or school screenings.

The Importance of a Developmental Vision Evaluation

Developmental vision evaluations are different from basic eye examinations, as they will test ALL of the vision skills that are required for optimal reading, learning, school performance and other activities of daily life.

In addition to testing for for visual acuity (20/20) & checking the health of the eyes, a developmental vision evaluation will test many other essential areas as well.

Developmental optometrists perform tests of:

  • visual tracking
  • two-eye teaming
  • focus
  • and visual perceptual functions

Such problems can cause difficulty with learning.   

Vision Problems Often Go Undetected or are Mislabeled as Attention Problems
Because the child can read the 20/20 line on the eye chart and never complains about visual symptoms, parents and teachers are often unaware of the existence of such disorders.  Nevertheless, hidden vision disorders can challenge the child’s ability to learn on an ongoing basis.

Children who struggle to read and complete assignments, or who become disinterested in and avoid reading, often have vision disorders which are at the root of these problems. 

Common symptoms of such vision disorders are:

  • Eyestrain
  • Blurring
  • Headaches
  • Double vision
  • "words moving on the page"
  • loss of place while reading
  • failure to recognize letters or simple words
  • omissions and transpositions
  • difficulty copying from the desk or chalkboard
  • inability to sustain attention while reading

Some of the more common vision problems that we see in our office that interfere with reading, writing, classroom or academic performance include:

Inadequate binocular eye coordination and focus abilities

Our vision system consists of two eyes, which must work in sync with one another. When an individual looks in the distance, the two eyes point straight ahead. Yet when an individual looks up close, the eyes need to turn inward (known as convergence) and work in tandem with one another to look at detail such for reading.

Some children that are experiencing blurred vision however, do not necessarily report it, simply because they do not even realize it is an abnormal way of seeing!

They actually think everyone sees the same way they do.

Disorders of this nature are quite common and can cause symptoms of blurred vision, eyestrain, headaches, and double vision when reading.  Some children that are experiencing blurred vision however, do not necessarily report it, simply because they do not even realize it is an abnormal way of seeing!

They actually think everyone sees the same way they do.

In addition, because it is difficult to focus on individual words, children with these problems often lose their place frequently, omit words, close one eye, and show difficulty reading for long periods of time

Comprehension often suffers as a result of the amount of work required to make the print clear and single.  Many children struggle unnecessarily as a result of these vision disorders because they need excessive time to complete assignments.  Others simply avoid reading. 

Deficits in visual tracking or scanning

When reading, the eyes need to scan or track along lines of print accurately and quickly. Eye movements which are inadequate or inefficient may also interfere with reading or classroom performance. 

Inadequate visual tracking causes:

  • jerky and inaccurate eye movements when reading
  • loss of place along lines
  • difficulty copying quickly or accurately either off the board or from paper to paper
  • may need to use finger or marker to keep place
  • misaligning digits in columns of numbers
  • and difficulty with Scantron test answer sheets

Older teens often state they frequently must re-read material over and over again, in order to assure they did not miss anything. Poor reading fluency and comprehension is also often a result.

Visual perceptual or visual processing deficits

A visual perceptual disorder should be suspected when a child:

  • confuses similar looking words
  • fails to recognize words previously learned
  • or fails to demonstrate adequate sight word recognition

Excessive reversals and poor spelling skills are also a common sign of a vision perception disorder. 

Since these deficits interfere with reading in the earliest stages of learning to read, they should be particularly suspect in the child whose reading problem began in the first grade.  A visual perceptual evaluation tests the child’s ability to:

  • make visual judgments
  • recognize and remember shapes and forms
  • see similarities and differences
  • organize visual motor skills
  • integrate their vision with the other senses.
Since children with disorders of the binocular system, focus, visual tracking, and visual perception frequently have normal eye health and 20/20 eyesight, their visual function deficits are frequently not diagnosed - even during a routine examination.  Detection and diagnosis requires a developmental vision evaluation as it will assess beyond the ability to read the eye chart. 

With Vision Disorders Treated, the Child is Free to Learn

When these vision disorders are detected, they are usually treatable, often with significant gains in reading and classroom performance.  Although optometrists do not treat learning problems, the elimination of vision disorders that contribute to learning difficulty will allow a child to more readily achieve his or her potential in an academic environment.

When vision disorders are treated, parents frequently report not only that their children’s symptoms of eyestrain, blurred vision, loss of place, copying difficulty, and double vision have been resolved, but that they are also doing much better in reading and in school.  Children frequently complete homework more easily, begin to enjoy reading for the first time, experience less frustration with schoolwork, are more self-confident, and exhibit greater self-esteem.  Parents frequently report less tension in the family, as the child experiences less frustration, behavior issues reduce, and parents are not so extensively occupied with having to help the child with homework.


Vision and Learning Checklist
Does Your Child Have a Learning Related Vision Disorder?

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