It is estimated that 80% of our learning occurs visually. Vision develops from birth until kindergarten age. At birth we can only see objects clearly 8-10 inches from our face. This gradually improves as the ability to see further away, judge distances, and track objects develops allowing for improved eye-body and eye-hand coordination skills. By the time a child starts school, these skills should be well-developed to start participating in reading, writing, and more complex physical activities such as sports. It is estimated that 1:20 preschoolers and 1:4 school age children have vision problems. Unfortunately, children do not usually complain about vision problems because they believe everyone is seeing the world the same way they do. Uncorrected vision problems can lead to poor school performance and in some instances lead to permanent vision loss. There are several common vision problems. Hyperopia, or farsightedness occurs when you can see distant objects clearly, but nearby objects are blurry. Myopia occurs when you can see objects that are close to you clearly, but distant objects are blurry. These conditions are routinely identified at school vision screenings. However, there are other visual problems that have a large impact on learning that often go undiagnosed. A thorough visual exam is often needed to identify these problems. Amblyopia, or lazy eye, happens when there is a disconnect between how the brain and eye work together leading the brain to not recognize input from one eye. Uncorrected, this can lead to permanent vision loss. Strabismus, or cross-eyes, occurs when there is an inability to align both eyes together. Focusing is very important when we shift our eyes from one object to another. It usually occurs automatically, and when it doesn’t it can present as inattention. Binocular vision refers to the eyes working together in a very precise and coordinated manner. Problems in this area will lead to double vision and have a large impact on learning and work performance. Smooth and coordinated eye movements are necessary for success in reading and being able to follow moving objects in sports or other activities. Lastly, visual processing refers to how the brain makes sense of visual input. It’s important in reading comprehensions and differentiating between similar shapes/letters words (b/d, on/no, saw/was. Here are some signs that your child may be having undiagnosed visual problems: short attention span, loses place while reading, avoids reading and other close activities, turning head to the side when reading. If you have concerns about your child’s vision discuss them with their health care provider or make an appointment for a vision exam.
Jean Mitchell, OT