– Ed

Many young kids have started their school careers this year. For the first time, demands will be placed on their visual systems like never before. Since it is unknown territory to them, it is unrealistic to expect them to report on any shortcomings as far as visual function is concerned. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their child has a comprehensive visual examination before being sent off to school.

As children progress in school, they face increasing demands on their visual abilities. The school career is a very important time in every child’s life. All parents want to see their children do well in school and most parents do all they can to provide them with the best educational opportunities. However, far too often one important learning tool may be overlooked – a child’s vision.

When certain visual skills have not developed, or are poorly developed, learning is difficult and stressful and children will typically:

  • Avoid reading and other near visual work as much as possible.
  • Attempt to do the work anyway, but with a lowered level of comprehension or efficiency.
  • Experience discomfort, fatigue and a short attention span.

Some children with learning difficulties exhibit specific behaviours of hyperactivity and distractibility. These children are often labelled as having “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD). However, undetected and untreated vision problems can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms commonly attributed to ADHD. Due to these similarities, some children may be mislabelled as having ADHD when, in fact, they have an undetected vision problem.

Because vision may change frequently during the school years, regular eye care is important. The most common vision problem is near-sightedness or myopia. However, some children have other forms of refractive error like farsightedness or astigmatism. In addition, the existence of eye focusing, eye tracking and eye coordination problems may affect school and sports performance.
Spectacles or contact lenses may provide the needed correction for many vision problems. However, a program of vision therapy may also be needed to help develop or enhance vision skills.

Vision Skills for School Success:

Adequate functional vision for school depends on many vision skills that must team together to support academic success. Vision is more than just the ability to see clearly or having 6/6 eyesight. It is also the ability to understand and respond to what is seen. Basic visual skills include the ability to focus the eyes, use both eyes together as a team, and move them effectively.

Other visual perceptual skills include:

  • Recognition – the ability to tell the difference between letters like “b” and “d”
  • Comprehension – to “picture” in our mind what is happening in a story we are reading
  • Retention – to be able to remember and recall details of what we read.

Every child must have the following vision skills for effective reading and learning:

  • Visual acuity — the ability to see clearly in the distance for viewing the chalkboard, at an intermediate distance for the computer, and up close for reading a book.
  • Eye Focusing — the ability to quickly and accurately maintain clear vision as the distance from objects change, such as when looking from the chalkboard to a paper on the desk and back. Eye focusing allows the child to easily maintain clear vision over time when reading a book or writing a report.
  • Eye tracking — the ability to keep the eyes on target when looking from one object to another, moving the eyes along a printed page, or following a moving object like a thrown ball.
  • Eye teaming — the ability to coordinate and use both eyes together when moving the eyes along a printed page, and to be able to judge distances and see depth for class work and sports.
  • Eye-hand coordination — the ability to use visual information to monitor and direct the hands when drawing a picture or trying to hit a ball.
  • Visual perception — the ability to organise images on a printed page into letters, words and ideas and to understand and remember what is read.

If any of these visual skills are lacking or not functioning properly, a child will be at a disadvantage. This can lead to headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain problems. Parents and teachers need to be alert for symptoms that may indicate a child has a vision problem.

Signs of Eye and Vision Problems:

A child may not tell you that he or she has a vision problem because they may think the way they see is the way everyone sees. Signs that may indicate a child has vision problems include:

  • Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  • Short attention span
  • Avoiding reading and other close activities
  • Frequent headaches
  • Covering one eye
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Holding reading materials close to the face
  • An eye turning in or out
  • Seeing double
  • Losing place when reading
  • Difficulty remembering what he or she read

When is a Vision Exam Needed?

Your child should have an eye examination every year, or more frequently if specific problems or risk factors exist, or if recommended by your optometrist.

Unfortunately, parents and educators often incorrectly assume that if a child passes a school screening, then there is no vision problem. However, many school vision screenings only test for distance visual acuity. A child who can see 6/6 can still have a vision problem. In reality, the vision skills needed for successful reading and learning are much more complex.

Even if a child passes a vision screening, they should receive a comprehensive optometric examination if:

  • They show any of the signs or symptoms of a vision problem listed above.
  • They are not achieving up to their potential.
  • They are minimally able to achieve, but have to use excessive time and effort to do so.

Vision changes can occur without your child or you noticing them. Therefore, your child should receive an eye examination every year, or more frequently if specific problems or risk factors exist, or if recommended by your eye doctor. The earlier a vision problem is detected and treated, the more likely treatment will be successful. When needed, the optometrist can prescribe treatment including spectacles, contact lenses or vision therapy to correct any vision problems.

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