A guide to the signs of vision problems that interfere with school performance
It is wonderful to see a Dr who really cares, is thorough, smart, solves problems and is so conscientious about looking over how my vision has changed over the years so that it can be understood. She has really made it possible for me to continue to function in a visual word–both professionally and personally. Thank you, Elise Brisco.
– Amanda P.
A large part of learning is done visually. Reading, spelling, writing, chalkboard work, and in many schools, computers, are among the tasks students tackle all day long, day after day. Each involves the visual abilities of seeing quickly and understanding visual information frequently less than arm’s length from the eyes.
Many students’ visual abilities just aren’t up to the level of the demands of these types of learning situation in the classroom.
Clear eyesight isn’t all that’s required for these close vision tasks. Youngsters must have a variety of scanning, focusing and visual coordination skills for learning and for getting meaning from reading. If these visual skills have not been developed, or are poorly developed, learning is difficult and stressful, and youngsters typically react in one or a combination of ways:
- They avoid near visual work entirely, or as much as possible.
- They attempt to do the work anyway, but with lowered understanding.
- They often experience discomfort, fatigue and short attention span.
- They adapt by becoming nearsighted, or by suppressing the vision of one eye.
Visual stress reactions can help explain the discomfort, fatigue, changes in behavior, altered eyesight and declining academic performance that often indicate a learning-related vision problem. Vision problems do not “cause” learning disabilities. However, poor visual skills, by interfering with the process, can impede remedial efforts. It’s like trying to build a house on sand. Good vision skills, on the other hand, can provide a solid foundation for learning.
Behavioral optometrists may help their patients deal with visual stress by prescribing “stress-relieving lenses.” These make it much easier for a child or adult to benefit from near vision work. Another fundamental approach is visual training. This is a sequence of activities prescribed by an optometrist in which the child builds visual skills and the ability to efficiently take in, understand and use visual information.
Behavioral optometrists find that many children with learning-related vision problems have 20/20 distance eyesight, but have great difficulty doing vision tasks less than arm’s length away.
Most school screenings test just the sharpness of distance eyesight; so many vision problems that affect learning go undetected. But parents and teachers can learn to spot learning-related visual problems.
Some of these signs are on the following checklist. If a child is continually exhibiting any of these signs, it’s time to arrange for a behavioral vision evaluation.
- Avoids near visual work entirely, or as much as possible
- Often experiences discomfort, fatigue and short attention span
- Learns better verbally than visually
- Slow reader
- Understands the material, but tests poorly
- Holds books very close to face (only 7 or 8 inches away)
- Tilts or turns head while reading
- Covers one eye when reading
- Squints when doing near vision work
- Poor posture when reading or writing
- Moves head back and forth while reading instead of moving only eyes
- Poor attention span
- Eyestrain or fatigue after prolonged reading or computer work
- Homework takes longer than it should
- Sees blurry or double images while reading or writing
- Loses place when moves gaze from desk work to chalkboard, copying text, or using scantrons for tests
- Must use a marker to keep place when reading
- Writes up or down hill, or irregularly spaces letters or words
- Reverses letters (b for d) or letters within words (saw for was)
- Repeatedly omits “small” words
- Rereads or skips words or lines unknowingly
- Fails to recognize the same word in the next sentence
- Misaligns digits in columns of numbers
- Headaches after reading or near work
- Burning or itching eyes after prolonged visual tasks
- Blinks excessively when doing near work
- Rubs eyes during or after short periods of reading
- Comprehension declines as reading continues
- Fails to visualize (can’t describe what they have been reading about)
- Poor eye hand coordination when catching a ball
Eliminating the visual problems that are helping to produce these signs can quickly pay off in the child’s improved school performance.
Behavioral optometrists spend years in postgraduate continuing education to master the complex visual programs prescribed to prevent or eliminate visual problems and enhance visual performance.
Not all optometrists practice behavioral optometry, which includes developmental and functional optometry. Dr. Brisco earned a post doctorate Fellowship in Developmental Optometry and Children’s Vision. We have a dedicated department to caring for children’s vision problems, and a staff that are knowledgeable and who enjoy working with children.