Many children struggle unnecessarily at school – all because of an undiagnosed visual skills difficulty. Ilse Homan reports.

Featured in Odyssey Magazine

Vision is essential for reading and learning. This is especially true during pre-school and first grade,   where the foundation for reading is laid.

Most of us assume that if a child can see the board, their eyes are fine. Visual performance involves much more than just the ability to see clearly.   Have you ever asked yourself the following questions?

  • Do my child’s eyes work together as a team? 
  • Can their eyes stay on target and move together when following a line of print?
  • Can their eyes blend images of each eye into one single, clear image?
  • Can their eyes adjust their focus from near to   far, in rapid succession? 
  • Does my child omit words, lose lines or reverse letters when reading?
  • Does my child hold the book too close, or at an awkward angle when reading?
  • Does my child use a finger to read? 

For success in school, children must have other equally important visual skills, besides sharpness of sight or visual acuity. They must also be able to move their eyes together as a team with good coordination and follow a line of print without losing their place.  They must be able to maintain clear focus as they read or make quick focusing adjustments when looking up to the board and back to their desks. They need to be  able to do all of this before they can even start to interpret and accurately process what they are seeing.

Children with visual skill difficulties often struggle unnecessarily in school. Their ‘hidden’ vision problem is keeping them from performing at grade level, yet teachers and parents often fail to make the connection between poor reading and vision.  A comprehensive visual examination is an essential first step in addressing this entirely treatable problem.

Some statistics on the link between visual skills and learning:

  • Up to 25% of all children have a visual problem significant enough to affect their performance at school.
  • As many as 80% of children who are struggling with reading, including those considered to be dyslexic, show a deficiency in one or more of the basic visual skills.
  • Only 14% of children have had a comprehensive visual examination by first grade!

What does a comprehensive visual exam for children entail?

  • Acuity (distance and near): The ability to see clearly and distinctly, in the distance as well as near (especially reading distance).
  • Refraction: Any inaccuracy of the eye to focus light onto the back of the retina can lead to conditions where children struggle to see the board, or have difficulty at near reading distances.
  • Binocular (eye ‘teaming’) skills: The ability of the eyes to aim, move and work together in unison.
  • Stereopsis: The ability of the brain to integrate the images from both eyes, which affects depth perception.
  • Focussing skills: The ability of the eyes to maintain clear vision at different distances.
  • Eye fixation and tracking skills: The ability of the eyes to look at and accurately follow an object or line of print.
  • Convergence and divergence: The ability of the eyes to accurately aim inwards and outwards while maintaining focus between different distances.
  • Colour vision: The ability to differentiate colours.