Vision-related Learning Problems
Vision-related learning problems are caused by any condition that hampers vision or the processing of vision which interferes with reading and ability to learn.
The eye is literally an extension of the brain. It is estimated that over 60% of the brain has some duties associated with vision input. Compared to the sense of touch (8%) and hearing (3%), the eyes are the by far the dominant input devices for the brain. Because of this, any condition that hampers vision or the processing of vision may result in problems learning. These conditions are not only varied but also range from mild to severe. When diagnosed and treated early, people have a better chance of learning efficiently.
Heredity can be a large risk factor in all types of learning and vision problems. And since the two are so intertwined, having a family history of learning or vision problems puts one at a greater risk. Therefore, we can predict that a child will be at risk even before conception.
After conception, during development in the womb as a fetus, and after birth, a child can be exposed to many positive and negative influences. Negative influences may include the social, emotional, mental, and physical trauma, injury, abuse, and neglect of the child and/or mother, inability to access a healthy and nutritious diet, exposure to environmental toxins, and poor lifestyle choices including tobacco, alcohol, and both legal and illegal drug use.
After birth, societal conditions that are especially negative to healthy development include poor access to nutritious foods, neglect, abuse, and/or a stress-filled home environment, poor or infrequent access to quality educational and learning enrichment materials, and inadequate family and/or social support. The inability of the family to provide the one-on-one attention required to stimulate healthy development due to excessive occupational demands, time constraints, inaccessible child care, poor health, inability to access quality medical care, and other societal failures, as well as the effects of stress related to these conditions and individual factors negatively affecting the family may also lead to developmental delays in many areas.
The child’s family practitioner and/or pediatrician should test the child from birth through the first years of life to identify achievement or failure to achieve important learning and developmental milestones. After entering school, children should be tested for a learning problem if certain symptoms or history is concerning. These would include any developmental delays such as deviation from the norm in terms of:
Vision problems that may occur could result in symptoms such as:
Squinting to See Up Close or Far Away
Closing or Covering One Eye
Tilting of the Head
Rubbing the Eyes
Red and/or Watery Eyes
Unusual Fatigue While Performing Vision-related Tasks (such as reading, writing, coloring, watching digital devices, and other near work)
While vision-related symptoms are relatively easy to observe, symptoms of vision processing can be much harder to detect. Many conditions may be difficult to test at extremely young ages, but observant parents, caregivers, and teachers can observe subtle and not so subtle behaviors that would be symptoms of learning problems that may be associated with the visual system. These include:
Reversal of Letters & Words Beyond the Age of Seven
Poor Reading Ability & Comprehension
Lack of Interest In Schoolwork, Especially Reading Tasks
Disruptive Behavior Inside & Outside the Classroom
A comprehensive eye exam is the first step to determine if visual problems are contributing to learning problems. Simply correcting uncorrected refractive error such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism can solve many problems quickly and easily. Other conditions such as the inability for the eyes to work comfortably together (binocular vision) and focus properly (accommodation) are also tested during an eye exam. Testing for amblyopia, sometimes called lazy eye, will also be performed. Some doctors of optometry who specialize in vision-related learning problems may have a more extensive battery of tests that often include pencil/paper tasks, visual memory testing, and perceptual testing such as copying forms and reading efficiency testing.
After a diagnosis is made, treatment must be initiated immediately in order to prevent further consequences, primarily falling behind in school. As a child grows, they develop at a rate that mimics a 45-degree angle. The older one gets, the more one knows. If a child is growing in age but not development, the angle looks more like a 25- or 30-degree angle. As that child ages, those two angles diverge more and more, making it harder and harder to “catch up” with their classmates.
Treatment may be as simple as full-time or part-time spectacle (or contact lens) wear. It may also be as complex as a team of professionals providing multiple learning activities. An IEP or individual education plan may be implemented to guide the child through school so that they are not overwhelmed in the classroom. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, doctors of optometry, and paraoptometric staff (vision therapists) may also be brought in for treatment and progress testing
Extracurricular activities from dancing and soccer to gymnastics may also help improve overall coordination and visual function. Out-of-school learning activities such as children’s museums, library visits, and even simply being read to can also help young learners find fun ways to learn.
As with any condition, early detection and treatment is desired. This action will ensure the young learner with problems is given an opportunity to become the best they can be. As a parent, you should be aware that everything the baby observes is a learning experience. Even if a child does not yet speak, they love to hear voices and see colorful pictures and objects. Explain the things you do as you do them, recite nursery rhymes, and sing simple songs. This helps stimulate their young brains to continually seek to know more.
Protect your child’s vision to give them the best start in school – and life. Family Eye Care Center offers comprehensive eye exams for infants, children, teens, and all ages. Dr. Craig can help diagnose many visual deficiencies in their earliest stages when they can be treated and managed most effectively. To learn more and schedule an appointment for your child, call: (304) 636-9111.
Learn more about developmental delays, as well as available services and support for children from birth through age three in West Virginia by visiting the West Virginia Birth to Three website.
Much of the educational information provided on this page has been adapted with permission from copyrighted resources provided courtesy of American Optometric Association (AOA) for use by its members. AOA is the leading authority on quality eye health and vision care, representing doctors of optometry and optometric professionals throughout the United States.
No information on this page, or any other part of this website, may be copied or shared in any manner without the prior written consent of the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder of the educational content on this page is American Optometric Association. The copyright holder of the content of this website is Family Eye Care Center – Elkins, West Virginia.