Tips to avoid OVERLOOKING a vision problem
As a parent, we all want to know how to set up our children up for success and allow them to reach their potential. A child in the early school years will almost never complain of blurred vision. So how, as parents, can you avoid falling into the trap of assuming their vision is fine? Here are the things you need to know:
- We are not born with good vision. Vision is a process that develops from birth. Literally speaking, we are born with the hardware, but not the software. We learn how to use all of the aspects of our visual system such as eye-hand coordination, visual attention, focusing and eye teaming through our development, by interacting with the world around us.
- The eyes rely on very precise muscle control to get the sensory information to the brain. We do not need to have good muscle control to hear, for example, but we do need good muscle control for accurate eye alignment, focusing, teaming and tracking.
- Clear sight is not enough. Clear sight is just one part of the visual process. Many people have undergone a sight check by reading letters posted on a chart across the room. This test allows you to know whether your clarity of sight for long distance is adequate, but does not tell you how your eyes work for near tasks. The majority of a child’s learning occurs at close distances. Competent eye teaming skills, eye focusing skills, tracking and fixation skills as well as visual processing skills are vital for efficient learning.
- Common symptoms may not be as common as you think. Most people associate headaches, sore eyes, squinting, watering or eye rubbing with a vision problem. However, in many school aged children, this is not the case. Instead, studies now show that symptoms are more likely to be associated with academic performance. These include:
- One check is not enough. Visual development usually continues up until and often past the age of 8 years old. A child who has “age appropriate” visual skills in Prep, may have slipped below expected by grade 2 or 3. Vision checks should ideally continue annually during the early school years, then bi-annually thereafter. Optometry Australia recommends that all children should undergo regular vision examinations, particularly if they are struggling or not working to potential.
- difficulty completing set work in time
- avoidance of school work, particularly desk work or reading;
- poor comprehension;
- failure to give attention to details or frequently makes careless mistakes, and/or
- inattentive or easily distracted during reading or close work.
The Role of the Optometrist
An optometrist can check that a child is “visually ready” to learn in a classroom. This means that a child can maintain their visual attention for a range of tasks, importantly, reading and near work. The problem is not always visual, but the only way to rule it out is with a comprehensive functional vision assessment. Most importantly, the check must include much more than a sight-based tests. I particular a thorough assessment of near visual skills is recommended. The options for treatment are also more varied than many assume. Glasses are not just for correcting sight, and can be used to improve a child’s focusing control. Additionally, treatments may include vision training or “eye exercises”.