Approximately 80 percent of what a child learns in school is presented in a visual form. The ability to see well is extremely important in order for children to achieve their academic potential. Uncorrected vision can lead to headaches and limited attention in the classroom. When a student cannot clearly see the blackboard or be able to distinguish between different letters while learning to read, he or she may become frustrated and uninterested in learning. In some occurences, the inattentive behavior is misdiagnosed with a learning disorder, such as Attention Deficit Disorder. When vision related learning disabilities are properly diagnosed, the solutions are simple and effective. Wearing glasses or contact lenses can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to learn. Refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are just a few of the visual disorders that can make learning more challenging. There are also vision problems related to the manner in which the eyes function and how the brain is able to process visual information. Learning-related vision problems include any vision problem that can possibly affect academic performance.
Learning Disabilities and Vision
There is a difference between a learning disability and a learning-related vision problem. The U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that learning problems mostly due to hearing, vision or motor disabilities are not considered learning disabilities. Even though vision problems are not classified as a learning disability they can still cause learning difficulties. If your child is having difficulty learning in school it is important to discover the root of the problem. A team approach including a school psychologist, your child’s teachers and a sensory specialist is the best way to figure the cause of the learning difficulty.
Learning-Related Vision Problem Types
Both the brain and the eyes are part of the process of vision. There are three types of vision problems that are learning-related. Visual input is mostly affected by the first two types of vision problems. Integration and visual processing are mostly affected by the third type of vision problem. The first type is categorized as refractive problems and eye health. Each eye’s visual acuity may be affected by these problems. An eye chart can be used to measure them. As previously stated astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness are examples of refractive errors which also include higher-order aberrations (optical problems which are more subtle). If the eye is not healthy, low vision problems can result which lessen visual acuity permanently. Glasses and refractive surgery may not be able to correct the problem.
Functional vision problems involve numerous specific eye functions and the neurological control regarding the functions. Examples of functional vision problems include: fine eye movements, binocularity (eye teaming) and accommodation (accuracy, focusing and flexibility). Functional visual skill problems can lead to blurred vision, headaches and eye strain that can all lead to learning difficulties. There is also a convergence insufficiency functional vision problem that involves the ability of the two eyes remaining comfortably and accurately aligned while reading. The third vision problem type is perceptual vision problems. This type of vision problem involves the ability to understand what you see, identify what it is, judge the importance of it and finally relate it to prior information stored in the brain. An example of this process is when you recognize a word you have seen before and you utilize both your brain and your eyes to create a mental picture of the word you are viewing. Typically routine eye exams only screen for eye health and refractive error problems. In order to check for the other types of vision problems you should see an optometrist who is a specialist in vision problems for children and vision therapy. The doctor can perform exams which can determine if there are any perceptual or functional vision problems that could affect your child’s learning. Children should also be tested for color blindness (which is usually not categorized as a learning-related vision problem). Young children, in particular, may have problems with color-matching activities or even merely identifying a color if they are color blind.
Learning-Related Vision Problem Symptoms
There are many symptoms that can be a sign of a learning-related vision problem. Some of these symptoms include: the student experiences double or blurred vision; he/she has eye strain or headaches; while performing a visual task the student has a short attention span; the student may avoid or dislike reading and work that is close; their eyes look like they move independently of one another or have crossed eyes; a student closes or covers one eye or utilizes only one eye by tilting or turning their head; the student excessively rubs or blinks their eyes; he/she uses a finger to guide their reading or lose their place while reading; the student needs to have their head very near a desk or book when writing or reading; he/she does not comprehend readings well or reads very slowly; he/she has trouble trying to remember what they read; he/she experiences eye-hand coordination difficulties; there is immaturity evidence; (after second grade) he/she often reverses letters or words; he/she repeats or omits words or confuses words which are similar; and the student has trouble recalling, identifying or recreating shapes. If your child is having problems learning and he/she demonstrates one or more of the symptoms, he/she may have a learning-related vision problem. It is best to have your child receive a comprehensive exam by a child vision and learning-related vision problem specialist to discover if a problem exists. If a vision problem is not discovered through the exam, your child’s symptoms could be the result of a non-visual dysfunction such as a learning disability.
Signs of Developmental and Attention Disorders
Have you ever heard the terms ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)? These are two terms used to describe attention disorders. Many children in schools today are on medication such as Concerta for attention disorders. Children with attention disorders can sometimes have problems which cause inattentiveness such as a speech and language dysfunction. A definite diagnosis can be determined by a pediatric neurologist. A developmental disorder which has three easily identifiable parts is autism spectrum disorder. The three parts include: social interaction that is inappropriate or an inability to socially relate; repetitive interests that are unusual and exclude all other tasks; and no eye contact. If your child exhibits all three of these signs or even just one, you may want to consult with a doctor.
Learning-Related Vision Problem Treatment
Typically if your child is diagnosed with a learning-related vision problem a vision therapy treatment is created and supervised by a doctor. Prescription eyeglasses may be necessary for specific tasks such as reading. If your child is already receiving special educational services and is part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) regarding a learning disability or other problem, have the vision therapy eye doctor contact the teachers and professionals who are involved with the IEP. It may be possible to combine learning activities which are remedial and vision therapy to help with your child’s learning difficulties. In addition, children who have learning problems can also have emotional problems such as depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. It is beneficial to explain to your child that many kids with learning problems actually have above-average IQ’s but simply process information in a different manner than other students. It is not a reflection on their level of intelligence.
Vision therapy is often recommended to treat learning-related vision problems because it deals with the cause of the problem not just the symptoms. Surgery can be performed to help with certain problems such as a lazy eye, but it does not treat the problem’s cause. A lazy eye is caused by the brain’s inability to use the eyes simultaneously as a team. Therapy actually trains the brain to use the eyes together correctly which gets rid of the brain’s need to avoid double vision by turning the eye. Through vision therapy the eyes are strengthened and allowed to work together to make vision more efficient and comfortable. Light therapy or optometric phototherapy is another treatment for eye problems which utilizes certain visible light frequencies which are projected into the eyes. It enhances both visual information processing and visual efficiency. Poor vision does not have to remain a problem. There are treatments which are available to help. If you suspect your child has a learning-related vision problem, a diagnosis by a specialized professional will be necessary to determine the proper treatment plan. It can get better.
- Disability Resource Guide: Lehigh University offers a resource guide that discusses vision impairment in general and how to work with students who are visually impaired along with other disabilities.
- Vision and Learning: The Save Our Sight website provides information on children with poor vision and how it can affect their learning. It also discusses what parents and optometrists can do to help the children.
- Learning-Related Vision Problems-Does Your Child Have One?: Dr. Lampert offers a guide to signs of vision problems that can interfere with learning.
- Children’s Eye Care-Important Facts for Parents and Caregivers: The Sudbury Eye Care website discusses vision and eye health problems for kids as well as why eye exams are so important.
- Improving Vision for Better Educational Outcomes: The Rural Education Action Project provides information about improving vision for better learning.
- Vision Problems Can Be Learning Problems: The Seeing Smarter website explains how kids are affected by poor vision and what the signs of a vision problem are that you need to look for.
- Vision and Reading: The Children’s Vision Information Network website explains how a child’s struggle with vision can affect their learning as well as the various learning-related vision problems such as tracking and focusing.
- Low Vision: The Low Vision Online website discusses what low vision is and the factors that affect vision as well as many other important vision-related information.
- Common Childhood Eye Sight Problems: The Vistar Eye Center website explains numerous eye sight problems such as a lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness and astigmatism.