Chronic underfunding, overcrowded classrooms, run down schools, and shortage of textbooks and resources are some of the school issues that grab the headlines.
Yet, there’s a problem in our schools that affects an estimated 1 in 5 of our children and receives virtually no publicity. It’s a problem that is as acute in affluent communities as in the inner city.
The problem is our children’s vision. I’m saddened to report that there are millions of school aged children in the U.S. who have vision problems that are interfering with their ability to learn. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them, their parents, and their teachers are unaware of the problem.
In too many cases, I have seen these undiagnosed vision problems create a cycle of despair. A child is labeled as a “slow learner”, receives special attention, yet shows little progress if the underlying vision problems are not treated.
In other less severe cases, I have seen problems linger as life-long “nuisances”- hindering the productivity and job satisfaction of successful executives, attorneys, actors, and other professionals.
How is it that so many of these problems can go undetected? There are two main reasons:
- Inadequate vision testing – The typical vision test given at schools (usually administered by the school nurse), and general eye doctors’ offices (that do not specialize in developmental vision) primarily only evaluate distance vision and eye health. Near vision tests, which determine if a child can read a book up-close, are often overlooked. More complex vision skills that e necessary to read effectively, such as eye tracking and teaming, are very rarely tested.
- Poor vision skills are “silent” ailments – A child cannot tell if he is seeing clearly because he cannot objectively compare his vision skills with others. By the same token, a parent or teacher cannot assess how a child is seeing because they cannot see through their child’s eyes.
Signs of vision problems
No matter how poor a student’s vision skills, it is all that he or she has known. I have seen extreme cases where a child with double vision has never reported this to her parents because she thought everyone saw like this. Consequently, it is especially important that parents and teachers are aware of the behavioral signs that indicate a possible vision problem.
Signs of vision problems include:
- School or sports performance below potential
- Resistance to school work and homework
- Slow reader or test taker
- Clumsy catching a ball
- Words go in and out of focus
- Rubs eyes while reading
- Covers an eye while reading
- Uses finger to keep place reading after the 2nd grade
- Moves reading material closer or further away to see it better
- Short attention span on visual activities
- Poor penmanship, doesn’t stay on the line
- Lack of public awareness
- The fact that proper vision is the learned mastery of variety of skills is not widely understood. Most people assume that visual skills naturally develop, when in fact, for approximately 20% of people these skills do not develop fully by themselves.
- Fortunately, most people with these vision problems can be helped through a program of Vision Training. A Vision Training program builds and enhances deficient visual motor and perceptual skills step-by-step
Children’s mosaic1 by Jamie Buscemi: used under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.com
At our office we have been working with many schools in the area over the years toward this goal. We frequently speak to groups of teachers and parents about learning-related vision problems. We also perform vision screenings at many schools to identify children with difficulties.
Regrettably, “grassroots” efforts like ours have yet to coalesce into a strong nationwide mandate for improved vision testing in our schools. There are several national organizations working on these issues, however, and I am convinced that eventually we will be successful in increasing public awareness.
I am hoping that we will reach a time when poor vision skills are eliminated as a reason why many of our children are not performing to their potential in school and sports. This begins with one child at a time, and one developmental vision exam at a time.