About 80% of learning in a child’s first 12 years comes through the eyes. Some children are labeled “learning disabled” or “trouble-makers,” when all they need is an eye exam and appropriate vision correction. Good vision is fundamental to reading; it is vital to seeing such learning tools as the chalkboard, visual aids and videos. In short, good vision is as essential to learning as the ABC’s.
Unlike a comprehensive exam, a simple vision screening ? a distance vision test using a Snellen chart ? only identifies 5% of vision problems in children. While these vision screenings are useful for offering an early indication of problems relating to distance eyesight, they miss other critical vision deficiencies that can impact a child’s eye health, development and school and learning performance.
However, a comprehensive eye exam measures a number of visual skills that are critical to a child’s healthy vision, such as using both eyes as a team, the ability of the eyes to focus properly when reading a book, or viewing a computer, and the ability of the eyes to move properly when reading across a page of print.
The basic vision skills needed for school use are:
- Near vision. The ability to see clearly and comfortably at 10-13 inches.
- Distance vision. The ability to see clearly and comfortably beyond arm’s reach.
- Binocular coordination. The ability to use both eyes together.
- Eye movement skills. The ability to aim the eyes accurately, move them smoothly across a page and shift them quickly and accurately from one object to another.
- Focusing skills. The ability to keep both eyes accurately focused at the proper distance to see clearly and to change focus quickly.
- Peripheral awareness. The ability to be aware of things located to the side while looking straight ahead.
- Eye/hand coordination. The ability to use the eyes and hands together.
If any of these or other vision skills is lacking or not functioning properly, your child will have to work harder. This can lead to headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain problems. As a parent, be alert for symptoms that may indicate your child has a vision or visual processing problem. Be sure to tell your optometrist if your child frequently:
- Loses their place while reading;
- Avoids close work;
- Holds reading material closer than normal;
- Tends to rub their eyes;
- Has headaches;
- Turns or tilts head to use one eye only;
- Makes frequent reversals when reading or writing;
- Uses finger to maintain place when reading;
- Omits or confuses small words when reading;
- Consistently performs below potential.
Since vision changes can occur without you or your child noticing them, your child should visit your eye doctor at least every two years, or more frequently, if specific problems or risk factors exist. If needed, your doctor can prescribe treatment including eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision therapy.