Expert Articles

Vision and Learning

Author: Vanessa Thai
Developmental and Behavioural Optometrist
Central Health Southside – Child Development Team

Learning difficulties are caused by problems with how the brain processes visual or auditory information. Children with limited environmental experiences or deficiencies in the visual system may exhibit abnormal development of vision, which can impact their ability to learn and perform tasks like reading and writing. Parents and caregivers should watch out for personality and behavioural changes that may develop, such as losing interest in school, becoming easily frustrated, developing behaviour issues at school, or becoming anxious or depressed.

A comprehensive eye examination conducted by a behavioural and developmental optometrist is recommended for children suspected of having a learning difficulty. Because vision issues can impact reading ability, a significant study indicates that identifying and treating eye problems in children with learning disabilities may lead to improved academic aptitude.

Why Is Good Vision Important For Learning?

Good vision is vital for learning, especially in the classroom. Studies show that up to age 12, around 80% of learning relies on vision. Yet, approximately 20% of children have undetected vision issues.

Children are required to see quickly and understand what is being taught in the classroom at a range of distances – on the desk, computer, and board. And they are required to do this repeatedly for prolonged periods. Therefore, it is important to detect and treat learning-related vision problems early so children are not disadvantaged.

Vision problems can manifest as “reading problems,” but the key is to understand the specific nature of the problem. Is the child struggling with the process of learning to read, focusing on the words, sustaining reading due to a short attention span, or experiencing excessive eye strain? A visual function assessment can determine if a vision problem might be mistakenly identified as a learning disability or a reading problem.

Signs of Vision Problems

Good vision means more than the ability to see clearly. Good vision means having efficient scanning, focusing, and visual coordination skills for reading and learning in the classroom.

In our modern day, vision is used for tasks it was not originally designed for, such as prolonged computer use. While children may have good distance eyesight, they may have difficulty maintaining good near vision when reading and writing, especially on computer screens leading to:

  • Avoidance of near visual tasks
  • Perseverance but with decreased understanding
  • Discomfort, fatigue, and reduced attention span
  • Development of myopia (short-sightedness) or suppression of the vision of one eye

A comprehensive eye test is encouraged if a child routinely shows any of the following signs:

Physical Signs & Symptoms

  • Excessive blinking or rubbing of eyes with near tasks
  • Uses head rather than eye movements for reading
  • Poor/slumped near-work posture
  • Headaches, burning or itching eyes after near tasks
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Squints or covers one eye with near-work
  • Reduced attention span, fatigues easily with near tasks

Working Habits 

  • Close working distance to a book (only 15-20 cm away)
  • Loses place when moving gaze e.g. desk to board, copying from textbooks
  • Uses aides e.g. a ruler/marker/finger to keep place when reading
  • Comprehension declines as reading continues
  • Student fails to visualise (cannot describe read information)

Work Quality

  • Irregular letter/word spacing and writes up/downhill
  • Makes letter/word reversals e.g. b for d, “saw” instead of “was”
  • Misaligns digits in columns of numbers
  • Frequently re-reads or skips words/lines unknowingly
  • Unable to recognise the same word in the next sentence

Behavioural Optometry and Vision Therapy

What Is It?

Behavioural Optometry focuses on understanding and improving vision, which encompasses various aspects such as clear eyesight, focusing abilities, eye movements, processing of visual information, and overall eye health. Vision development can vary among children, and is influenced by environmental experiences and the physical structures that provide sensory information.

Vision therapy aims to improve the coordination, functioning, and processing of the visual system. It combines eye activities and prescribed glasses to reduce eyestrain. The therapy targets visual, visual motor, and visual cognitive skills to enhance overall visual performance, including hand-eye coordination, peripheral awareness, and efficient visual function.

Vision therapy can be effective in treating conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (turned eye), and poor eye-hand coordination while improving visual efficiency and comfort. Vision therapy can also help train and improve skills such as tracking and focusing, which are crucial for reading. The duration of therapy can vary and typically ranges from weeks to months.

Is Vision Therapy Suitable For Your Child?

Your behavioural and developmental optometrist can assess the suitability of vision therapy for your child based on their individual needs and potential outcomes. By addressing visual issues, vision therapy can improve physical coordination, self-confidence, academic performance, and attention span, and ignite the joy of reading in children.

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Vision and Learning