Topics about vision that may surprise you!

This an edited update of the article by Meredith Graham is as seen in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Kids on the Coast magazine..

What am I?

Of all the senses, I function as the least mature at birth, yet in a classroom, it is said I am responsible for up to 70% of the sensory input to the brain. My development changes rapidly from birth throughout childhood. Along with allergies and asthma, disorders with me are the most common long-term health problems experienced by Australian children(1), yet comprehensive testing is not routine. It is estimated, that I am the 4th most common disability amongst children and 70% of children with a learning difficulty have a problem with me(2) – yet these problems often go undetected and are overlooked.

What am I? I am VISION

Your Child’s Vision

Girls eye close-up

We have all heard the catch cry “sight is a precious gift”, yet oddly enough, the human visual process is generally underestimated. Few seem to realise just how important vision is to our lives. Most people think of the eyes as a marvellous pair of cameras. Yet in thinking this way, most fail to understand how extensively the quality of vision affects a child’s development – intellectually, emotionally, behaviourally and socially.

Good vision does more than allow your child to see the board at school, or a bird in the sky. Of the three million inputs arriving in your child’s brain every second, two million come from their eyes. For this reason, vision is the process that guides and shapes your child’s behaviour and experience of life. Posture, coordination, attention, communication, language and balance are all guided by vision.

Why the confusion?

Alarming as these facts are, the next question is why? Why is vision overlooked? Why, if it is so important, do we hear so little about it? And, finally, how do I know if my child is suffering?

The answers to these questions are complex, but primarily, the problem occurs when people confuse SIGHT with VISION. Sight is the ability to see with clarity, and in an eye examination, this is usually measured on a letter chart across the room. However, important things in a child’s world are usually much closer to them – within arms’ reach. The visual skills for looking close are very different to the clear sight required to see far into the distance.

Ironically, problems with the visual process can be very much hidden from sight. It is difficult as a parent or caregiver to see the problem, and younger children almost never question how they see. I commonly meet children who report double vision or the words moving on the page when I question them, yet they almost never think to tell the teacher or their parents about it!

When to Test & What to Look For

Many parents assume that a child must know their letters to be able to have their eyes checked. This is not true, and potentially leads to late diagnosis. The following is a recommended guide for vision checks, and lists some of the more common symptoms and signs to be aware of.

1st check @ 6 – 12 months of age.
This check is important to ensure that your child’s vision is developing symmetrically in both eyes. Symptoms to look for:
Avoids eye contact or does not respond to faces;
One eye turns in or out;
Delays with gross motor development (vision provides your child with the hunger to explore – if it is not working well, then their motor development may be delayed).

2nd check @ 3 yrs of age
At this age, children become less random in their play, and begin to sit for longer periods to draw, colour in or manipulate things with their hands. A check at this time confirms not only that the eyes are still developing symmetrically; but that they are beginning to develop the muscle coordination and stamina necessary for close work. Symptoms to look for:

  • Avoidance or no interest in books, colouring or close work;
  • Pulling very close to things;
  • One eye turning in or out (perhaps only occasionally);
  • Clumsiness;
  • Can’t visually inspect without touching;
  • Avoids eye contact, or
  • Doesn’t watch and imitate others.

Pre Prep Check
Before starting school, it is important to ensure that children have all the necessary visual skills to cope with the demands of the classroom. Children should be able to sustain close viewing comfortably, control their far-to-close focusing muscles, move their eyes accurately from place to place, and process visual information. Symptoms at this age may include:

  • Unable to draw and name pictures or basic shapes;
  • Unable to tell you about places, things or people seen elsewhere;
  • Not interested in imaginative play;
  • Not visually alert and observant of surroundings;
  • Doesn’t colour within lines;
  • Difficulty using hand tools such as scissors, or placing small objects in small openings;

School Checks
It is important to note that vision checks at school are not routine. A school sight screening will usually only check your child’s SIGHT, not their VISION. Children’s visual skills are still maturing between 5 – 8 yrs, with fine-tuning of the muscle control for eye movements and two-eyed looking. Checks should occur at least every 1 to 2 years, or sooner if your child’s performance is not as expected. Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty learning to read;
  • Mistakes words with similar beginnings;
  • Poor comprehension;
  • Fatigued at end of day:
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration;
  • Poor recall of visually presented material;
  • Slow to copy or complete work;
  • Headaches or tired/sore eyes;
  • Turns head to the side or covers one eye during close work;
  • Poor handwriting & poorly spaced work, or
  • Difficulty with right/left concepts.

These symptoms are intended as a guide and are by no means exhaustive. Any concerns about your child’s development or performance should be followed up with a consultation with an optometrist who is experienced in treating children’s vision problems.
Written by: Meredith Graham BAppSc(Optom)Hons FACBO

References cited:
Eye Health Among Australian Children. 2008 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.
Optometry, “Practice strategies: Back to School,” Vol. 71, Number 8, August 2000

Paul Graham

Paul believes that what he truly practices is “Optometry for the Individual”. Whether it be vision training, glasses, custom or disposable contact lenses, orthok or precision tinted lenses, Paul will consult with you, completely assess your vision and custom design a treatment approach that is right for you. If you want a fresh approach, then Paul is the Optometrist for you!