Learning related Vision Problems in Children
Experts claim that the lion's share of what we learn as young children is presented visually, up to 80%. As our vision is so important to early learning processes, any visual deficits or issues need to be resolved as young as possible to lessen the impact on the child's academic progress. Of course, there are learning methods used to teach children who are blind or sight-impaired, but mainstream schooling depends largely on vision for full comprehension and participation.
With that said, refractive errors are only one section of potential vision problems children can experience. Being far-sighted near-sighted or having astigmatism can make reading the blackboard difficult or leave print nothing but a smear in front of a child with uncorrected vision. Proper lenses will correct the error immediately and give the child crisp, clear vision. If glasses aren't needed or don't address the issue completely, other factors may be at play.
Understanding Learning-Related Vision Problems
To fully comprehend how vision impacts learning, it's important to differentiate between learning disabilities and learning-related vision problems. Learning disabilities are characterized by a disorder involved in the psychological processes of learning. A learning disability may impact a child's ability to;
- Understand or use language, including both written and spoken forms
- Speak, write, perform mathematical computation, or spell
- Comprehend written language or compose language properly
Learning disabilities, such as mental retardation or perception disorders, may result in learning problems as a child works through the school system. The problem is usually obvious to educators and counselors alike.
Learning-related vision problems, however, are not always so obvious. This is especially true for children that do not have a learning disability and do have a learning-related vision problem. If a child has both issues, proper diagnosis and adaptation of their schooling can be complex. The good news is, proper identification and correction or adaptation can help the child learn successfully along with his or her peers.
Learning-Related Vision Problems in Particular
There are three main types of learning-related vision problems that can have a huge impact on a child's ability to learn and a second type, colourblindness, that can cause moderate issues if it goes undiscovered. Understanding these issues can help parents, educators and counselors to notice the early-warning signs in children and have them screened as appropriate. The earlier a problem is found and corrected or adapted to, the less the child's education will suffer as a result.
Refractive errors. As stated above, garden-variety nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are easily identified and corrected with glasses, contact lenses or even laser surgery. However, other refractive errors can exist that are a bit harder to diagnose and may pass unnoticed until the child begins to struggle.
More uncommon but still prevalent refractive errors are often called higher-order aberrations. Such conditions include such intimidating-sounding conditions such as trefoil, coma, prism, quadrafoil, secondary astigmatism and spherical aberration. These conditions can cause vision problems such as double vision, seeing halos around lights, blurring, glare or starburst patterns. These can be passed off as an overactive imagination if a child complains of thee visual problems, so don't take them lightly.
Functional vision issues. The eyes communicate with the brain and the brain controls the eyes. In a typical child, the eyes will follow one another in a pairing called binocularity. The eyes will also focus automatically and perform fine movements for close work and reading. In people with a learning-related vision problem, these unconscious communications between the brain and eyes may be compromised. Deficits in these areas can cause:
- Blurry or smeared vision.
- Eye strain and dryness.
- Painful headaches or even migraines or cluster headaches.
Problems with perceptual vision. Typically, our eyes and brain work together to focus on important objects, disregard unimportant information and recognize objects and words you've seen in the past. Being unable to use perception properly can greatly impact a child's education and can make vision therapy a necessity for reaching his or her full potential.
Colour blindness. Colour blindness is extremely common and it doesn't necessarily have to have much of an impact on a child's education or learning ability. Most optometrists will screen children for colour blindness at a young age, as may the school nurse. Your child should ideally be screened before he or she attends nursery school, as many activities involve colour matching and recognition. There are many types of colour blindness, and you can read more about colour blindness here.
Early Warning Signs of Learning-Related Vision Issues
There are several different signs a child can display to tell parents, educators and family members that something may be amiss with their vision. Here are some potential symptoms you should be aware of.
- Complaints of headaches. Younger children may hold their head and cry if they aren't old enough to articulate their discomfort.
- Squinting a lot, turning the head to one side constantly, or closing one eye frequently. These can all be signs of the child's brain compensating for poor vision. If one eye is much stronger than the other, the brain will want to ignore the inferior information being given by the weaker eye.
- Reading very slowly, losing his or her place a lot, or having poor reading comprehension. Your child may also follow the words with their finger while reading. All of these can be signs that reading is very difficult for some reason, perhaps related to a vision deficit.
- Problems with recognizing shapes or drawing them from memory. Most children are very visually oriented. If your child is not, it may be a sign that their vision is deficient.
- Poor coordination, especially hand-eye coordination. If your child took the longest time to learn to guide a utensil to their mouth or still can't pick up objects from a table reliably, vision problems may be to blame.
- A short attention span for visual activities. If your child is wandering off or turning away during exciting, colourful movies or isn't at all interested in beautiful nature scenes, poor vision may be to blame. Of course, some children have their own preferences, but a lack of interest or a short attention span for anything visual can point to an issue.
A lot of these symptoms can be completely normal, so it's important not to panic if you notice them. Make an appointment for your child's vision to be evaluated before you become over-concerned. It's always possible your child just has a small quirk or difference that will resolve on its own as they age.
Therapeutic Options for Learning-Related Vision Problems
Vision therapy is a great tool for correcting vision issues before they can bloom into serious roadblocks. If your child is already receiving specialized attention at school, contact his or her IEP (Individual Education Plan) liaison to discuss adding vision therapy into the plan. If your child isn't participating in remedial programs, your doctor and optometrist can work together to advise you of the best therapy options for your child.
In addition to vision therapy, it's important to recognize that children with vision issues can also suffer from poor self-esteem, become anxious and withdrawn or even develop the early warning signs of depression. Make sure your child is involved in their therapy and understands it has effect on their intellectual capabilities. Children with learning-related vision issues can be just as smart, quick and successful as their typical-sighted peers.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 2 Nov 2016, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020