A much as 80% of most school children’s learning occurs through their eyes. Looking at books, reading a blackboard, using a computer, watching the teacher and observing the other students are some of the ways vision is used in the classroom. Being able to process the information that comes through the eyes is key to a student’s success at school.
Although most school children have some sort of eye exams during their school years, many of them have vision problems that are misdiagnosed or even go completely undetected. Because eyesight and vision are related but different, a child can have 20/20 eyesight and still have vision problems. Even when teachers or parents suspect a vision issue, the problems are not always exposed because not all doctors know how to identify them.
The difference between eyesight and vision is key to understanding some vision-related learning problems. “Eyesight” is one’s ability to see clearly and is determined with an eye exam and usually involves a Snellen chart (the one with all the Es). “Vision” should be described as the brain’s understanding of what is seen. Vision involves being able to take information received through the eyes, process it and obtain meaning from it. When a person has a vision problem, it affects the way the brain interprets the information that is gathered by the eyes. Although the eyes may be able to focus, the information they are transferring to the brain may get doubled, reversed or jumbled in some other way. This can result in frustration and confusion for students, parents and teachers. When a child gets confused or frustrated they can act out in the classroom, think they are “stupid”, withdraw, become angry or depressed, experience low self esteem or even give up entirely. Many children with vision issues are labeled as trouble makers, hyperactive, class clowns, daydreamers, learning disabled or just plain lazy.
Because a child with vision problems can have healthy eyes and 20/20 eyesight, identifying the issue can be difficult unless the child is tested by a doctor who knows what to look for. The right doctor may ask if the child experiences any of the following:
• Excessive blinking or squinting
• Frequent closing of one eye
• Difficulty catching or throwing
• Poor eye-hand coordination
• Turns head while reading to favor one eye
• Becomes exhausted when trying to read
• Posture issues, raising one shoulder, tilting head
• Repeatedly confuses right and left
• Problems moving through space, runs into things, drops things
• Need to rub eyes often
• Eyes wander or cross
• One eye turns, drifts or aims in a different direction that the other eye
• Skips or repeats words while reading
• Uses finger to aid in reading
• Frequent motion sickness
• Moves and tilts whole head instead of just moving eyes
• Does not recognize a word that was recognized a few lines before
• Reverses letters
• Homework takes “longer than it should”
• Short attention span when reading and writing
Children, their parents and their teachers can become discouraged trying to deal with these problems. Many people don’t know that, because vision is a learned skill, some of the issues can be improved upon or even corrected through vision therapy. Vision therapy is a program of individualized vision “exercises” or procedures performed under a doctor’s supervision. Although each person’s program is different, generally a patient attends one or two 30-minute, in-office sessions per week and might have 15-30 minutes a day of “homework” to reinforce the work done at the office, depending on the case. Although some may go longer, most patients complete vision therapy in 3-9 months. These processes are designed to re-train the brain and eyes to work together in a more efficient and effective way which can result in permanent correction of the problem.
Many people’s lives have been changed for the better through vision therapy. Better understanding, less stress, less fatigue, improved grades, more peaceful relationships, improved athletic abilities and higher self esteem are a few of the benefits of a successful vision therapy experience.