You probably see it every day: Children that can’t sit still in your classroom seem disengaged or are simply misbehaving. Or, maybe you have a child that is trying hard, but cannot seem to keep his or her writing in a straight line on the page. For many of these children, the typical diagnosis of ADD, ADHD or other disorders is made, and unfortunately that may not be the problem. The answer could be as simple as needing vision therapy.
It is a common misconception that “20/20” vision is perfect vision. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the visual acuity is there, the eye tracking may not be or be lacking. It’s this tracking, or series of coordinated muscle movements, that is needed to do things like read, learn and engage in many activities—both inside and outside of the classroom. Bad vision (not just 20/20) affects reading, writing, depth perception (kids with eye issues are often clumsy) which in turn affects sports activities, etc.
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Children relate to the outside world in a very visual fashion. It’s imperative, therefore, that their vision is at its best in order to enable the individual to conduct themselves and grow as people.
So what visual attributes affect a child’s ability to learn?
- Convergence– While reading, each eye should tilt slightly inwards to focus on the words. If one or both of the eyes is not able to point inwards, the result could be faulty, overlapping images in the brain. This creates strain on the eyes and, subsequently, difficulty in reading.
- Directionality– This aspect of vision allows the person to differentiate between similar-looking shapes that have multiple meanings according to their orientation. Common troublesome items are the letters b, d and p, q.
- Span of Recognition– A good span of recognition allows a person to read at an accelerated pace. Those lacking in this aspect can only recognize shortened parts of words or individual letters at a time. This would be akin to attempting to read a paragraph through a straw.
- Visualization– Those with vision disorders may have problems creating mental images. This can lead to difficulties with spelling, math, art or music.
If you suspect that one of your students has a vision problem, it is best to direct the parents to proper sources of information and a licensed vision therapist. Good information can be found on many vision therapy websites, such as here. This will help safeguard against potential misdiagnosis.
Your work as a teacher gives you one of the most important vantage points in identifying potential vision problems. Your classroom represents a place where a child’s vision skills will be frequently put to the test. Reading, writing and processing visual information are all tasks that are demanding on students’ visual capacities.
Through careful observation of your students’ performance and conduct, you can frequently determine the children that may need to be taken to a vision professional. Your position as a member of a team of professionals that look for learning disabilities can help you identify problems early so that they can be fixed.
Parents truly appreciate these observations and will value your contribution to their child’s learning experience. Your recommendation of a student for a vision exam or subsequent therapy holds the potential to change the child’s, and parent’s, life forever.