The Link Between Learning Difficulties in Children and Vision.

Did you know that more than 80% of information that children process, comes through their eyes?

In our modern world, before children even have the opportunity to go to school, they are subjected to increasing visual demands through the use of electronic displays (tablets, laptops, mobile phones) -resulting in eye related issues that were hardly noticed in the past by optometrists.  Good vision is vital in many aspects of a child’s life including: educational, social & sporting.

What can cause poor vision?

Vision is not simply the ability to see small objects or letters far away.  Vision is a complex process which involves the eyes (your camera) and the brain (the processing lab which converts the electrical images into something which you can understand).  Poor vision may be due to eye related difficulties, brain related issues or a combination of eye and brain related difficulties.

Eye related difficulties only:

  1. Refractive difficulties
    1. long-sightedness (hyperopia) – difficulty seeing near objects clearly
    1. short-sightedness (myopia) – difficulty seeing distant objects clearly
    1. astigmatism – leads to distortion & blurriness when viewing objects at near or far distances
  • Decrease in visual efficiency
  • Focussing – The ability of the eye to maintain focus at any distance and to change focus between distances.  Problems in this area can cause frustration or poor concentration while performing tasks at close distances, irritable or distractible behaviour, blurred vision at distance and near and symptoms of eye strain and headache.
  • Binocular vision The ability of the brain to use the images obtained from both eyes and to integrate this to see depth. This ability is required for seeing 3D movies, judging depth in sport etc
  • Eye teaming – The ability to keep the eyes pointing at the object of regard and to compensate for any alignment errors.  Eye co-ordination problems can cause frustration or poor concentration while performing tasks at close distances, irritable behaviour, blurred vision at distance and near and symptoms of eye strain and headache.
  • Eye movement control (eye tracking) The ability to move both eyes smoothly and accurately in a coordinated manner  Most of the information obtained through the visual system comes from a sampling of the surroundings by a series of fixations.  The quality of the eye movements and the accuracy of the fixations determine what we see and how quickly we recognise and interpret the visual signals.  Eye movements are important in reading fluency and sporting ability.

Combination of eye & brain -related difficulties:

  • Strabismus (turned eye) & amblyopia (lazy eye) – turned eyes can result from either a weak muscle or a difference in the focussing ability of the muscles in each eye. This may lead to a lazy or amblyopic eye. Amblyopia is a condition where the visual quality is poor and cannot simply be corrected by lenses.
  • Depth perception (stereopsis) The ability to make accurate judgments of spatial location using the information from both eyes.  This skill is important in locating oneself and moving around in space, avoiding or catching moving objects.  Difficulties in depth perception may be due associated with poor ball skills, clumsiness, inaccurate distance judgements and frequent loss of place while reading.
  • Colour perception The ability to discriminate colour.  This skill is important in some educational situations were colour coding is used, e.g. mathematical blocks.  It is also a consideration in certain occupations where gross or fine judgements of colour are required.

Brain -related difficulties only:

  • Decrease in visual processing
  • discrimination The ability to discriminate the important detail in visually presented material.
  • spatial awareness (R/L, reversals) – ability to discriminate left & right both within your own body and external to your body. Reversals refers to the ability to recognise letters and not reverse them e.g. bd, p &q
  • visual memory The ability to recall important detail in visually presented material after the stimulus has been removed.
  • figure-ground discrimination The ability to recognise a form when it is seen against a confusing background.
  • visual closure The ability to recognise a complete form when presented with an incomplete version.
  • Spatial relations The ability to discern the relationships between each part of a form and the whole form.  Some types of mathematical functions require this skill.  An inability to discriminate different orientations of a form may be associated with reversals of letters, numerals and words.
  • integration with other senses
  • visual motor integration The ability to copy developmentally graded geometric designs.  This task requires visual analysis, an understanding of spatial relationships and parts-to-whole organisation, motor planning, fine motor skill and visual monitoring.
  • visual auditory integration – The ability to coordinate seeing-hearing information so as to adequately respond to changing environments. It is vital this system works well when learning to read and  when writing information whilst the teacher speaks

What are some signs my child have an issue with vision?

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Problems seeing the board
  • Problems with reading
  • Squinting
  • Holds reading very close
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Complaining of headaches, sore eyes

How can I prevent eye related vision problems in class?
Vision related problems can be minimized by:

  • Ensure adequate lighting
  • Use large writing on board
  • Encourage good posture
  • Take regular breaks when reading or using computers
  • Holding reading a sensible distance away
  • Referring a child for an eye test &/or a visual processing assessment

If you think your child has any of the associated difficulties listed please make an appointment to see one of our optometrists who can help diagnose the problem and provide the best possible advice and management.

By Dr. Arthur Stevens – Optometrist and Director at Kosmac & Clemens Optometrists