Having good visual skills is one of the most important tools needed for children’s academic success. Yet this fall, more than 10 million children in the United States will go back to school with an undetected vision problem. Since vision problems interfere with learning, many children frequently struggle in school.
The areas most impacted by vision problems are reading and writing. Reading and writing require children to accurately use most of their visual skills. They must be able to use their eye movements together as a team, be able to follow a line of print without losing their place, be able to move eyes smoothly across a page and shift them quickly and accurately from one object to another, be able to maintain clear focus as they read and they have to make quick focusing changes, such as looking up to the board and back to their desks, and they must have hand/eye coordination. Today, about twenty percent of school-aged children struggle with reading. Some of these children have learning disabilities or dyslexia. Many, however, have some type of a vision problem. Unfortunately, teachers and parents often do not make the connection between poor reading/writing skills and a child's visual skills.
Furthermore, children with vision problems are at times labeled as having ADD because children with eye teaming and focusing problems exhibit symptoms similar to ADD. They are highly distractible, have short attention spans, make careless errors, fail to complete assignments, lack good organizational skills, and are often fidgety and off task. If your child is suspected of having ADD, have his or her vision evaluated through a comprehensive eye exam to determine if poor vision is a factor in his or her behavior. Additionally, parents should be on alert for these signs of vision difficulties in their children:
• Squinting or frequently rubbing eye(s)
• Turning or tilting head to one side to see better or uses one eye only
• Closing or covering one eye to read, watch TV, or see better
• Complaining of headaches, nausea, dizziness, or tired eyes
• Holding a book or reading material close to the face
• Using a finger to follow along or to maintain place while reading
• Frequently losing place while reading
• Receiving lower grades than usual or consistently performing below potential
• Making frequent reversals when reading or writing
• Omitting or confusing small words when reading
Many parents are not aware that their children have vision problems because they rely on the results of vision screening performed by their pediatrician or the school nurse. Although these simple vision screenings can indicate problems related to distance vision and general eye health, they frequently miss other vision problems that can impact a child's academic performance. Research shows that simple vision screening detects only five percent of all vision problems. However, a comprehensive eye exam administered by an eye care professional such as an optometrist is considered the most reliable and accurate method of diagnosing vision problems. These exams evaluate overall eye health as well as key visual skills essential to learning.
The American Optometric Association recommends that school-age children receive a complete vision evaluation in the summer prior to entry into kindergarten. After that, children should have an exam approximately every two years if they have no vision problems, every twelve months if a child requires glasses or contact lenses, or as needed if your children are experiencing any vision difficulty. By having your child’s vision regularly evaluated through a comprehensive eye exam, vision problems can be detected and addressed before they negatively impact academic performance.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 30 years of professional experience. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or comments.