Learning is accomplished through complex and inter-related processes. Your eyes and the visual system grow and develop from the brain, making vision a fundamental factor in thinking and learning. Therefore it is important that the issues regarding vision and learning are well understood by schools and health professionals to enable early detection & treatment.
Signs of Vision Problems
Vision is a key sense in the classroom and plays a major role in reading, spelling, writing, board work, and computer work. Students tackle these tasks all day long, day after day. Each requires the visual skills of seeing quickly and understanding visual information that is frequently less than arm’s length from the eyes.
Many students' visual skills are not up to the demands of these types of classroom learning situations.
Clear eyesight is not all that is required for close vision tasks. Students must have a variety of scanning, focusing and visual coordination skills for learning and for getting meaning from reading.
If these visual skills have not been or are poorly developed, learning may become more difficult and stressful and students typically may react in one of a variety of ways:
- Avoidance of near visual work
- Perseverance but with reduced understanding
- Discomfort, fatigue and a short attention span
- Adaptations such as the development of short sightedness or suppression of the vision of one eye
Visual stress reactions can help explain the discomfort, fatigue, changes in behaviour, altered eyesight and declining academic performance that often indicate a learning-related vision problem.
Vision problems do not “cause” learning disabilities. However, poor visual skills can interfere with the process and impede remedial efforts. Vision is a foundation skill. Without a sound base, learning is like trying to build a house on sand. Good vision skills are essential to support learning.
Behavioural Optometrists may help their patients deal with visual stress by prescribing “support lenses". These lenses make it much easier for a child to use their visual system for various visually demanding tasks without stressing the visual system.
Another fundamental approach is Vision Therapy. This is a sequence of activities prescribed by an optometrist whereby the child develops and learns to control their visual system to ensure it operates more efficiently. This in turn allows the child to understand and use visual information more effectively.
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Some of these signs are on the following checklist. If a child routinely exhibits any of these signs it’s time to arrange for a behavioural vision evaluation. Eliminating the visual problems that are contributing to these signs or symptoms can result in rapid improvement in the child’s school performance.
- Holding a book very close (only 15-20 cms away)
- Child holds head at an extreme angle to the book when reading
- Child covers one eye while reading
- Child squints when doing near work
- Constant poor posture when working close
- Child moves head back and forth while reading instead of moving only the eyes
- Poor attention span, drowsiness after prolonged work less than arm’s length away
- Homework requiring reading takes longer than it should
- Child occasionally or persistently reports seeing blurring or double while reading or writing
- Child reports blurring or doubling only when work is hard
- Loses place when moving gaze from desk work to white board, or when copying from text to notebook
- Child must use a marker/ruler/finger to keep their place when reading
- Writing up or down hill, irregular letter or word spacing
- Child reverses letters (b for d) or words (saw for was)
- Repeatedly omits “small” words
- Re-reads or skips words or lines unknowingly
- Fails to recognize the same word in the next sentence
- Misaligns digits in columns of numbers
- Headaches after reading or near work
- Burning or itching eyes after doing near vision work
- Child blinks excessively when doing near work, but not otherwise
- Rubs eyes during or after short periods of reading
- Comprehension declines as reading continues
- Child fails to visualize (can’t describe what they have been reading about)
Many Children have 20/20 Eyesight
Behavioural Optometrists find that most children with learning-related vision problems have good distance eyesight but have great difficulty maintaining vision up close such as when reading and writing. Most school screenings only test the sharpness of distance eyesight. As a result many vision problems that can impact on learning go undetected.
Parents and teachers who understand and can identify the signs and symptoms can detect learning-related visual problems in a child. Behavioural optometric intervention in the management of children and adults with learning disabilities helps to eliminate any vision problem that may obstruct learning.
Current research indicates that some people with reading difficulties have co-existing visual and language processing deficits. For this reason, a vision examination that assesses those factors influencing learning is vital.
- Vision problems can and often do interfere with learning
- People at risk of learning-related vision problems should be evaluated by an optometrist who provides diagnostic and management services in this area
- Problems in identifying and treating people with learning-related vision problems arise if the definition of vision is limited to clarity of sight and healthy eyes
- The goal of optometric intervention is to improve visual function and alleviate associated signs and symptoms
- Prompt treatment of learning-related vision problems enhances the ability of children and adults to perform to their full potential
- People with learning problems require help from many disciplines to meet the learning challenges they face. Behavioural Optometric involvement constitutes one aspect of the multi-disciplinary management approach required to prepare the individual for lifelong learning
Frequently Asked Questions
So, What is Behavioural Optometry?
Behavioural Optometry is many things to many people even within the profession. The common link is the understanding of vision and how to encourage its development. It tends to be more holistic in its approach as it tries to incorporate the physical, neurological and developmental aspects of vision.
How is a Behavioural Optometrist Different?
Behavioural Optometrists spend years in post-graduate and continuing education to master the complex visual programs that are prescribed to prevent or eliminate visual problems and enhance visual performance.
Not all optometrists practice Behavioural Optometry, which includes neurodevelopmental and functional optometry.
How do I Find a Behavioural Optometrist?
Ask the Following Questions:
- Do you assess and treat children?
- Do you test their vision at the reading/writing distance?
- Will you provide a report on your findings?
- Do you offer vision therapy, or do you refer to someone who does if it is indicated?
Is Behavioural Optometry Covered by Medicare or Private Health Insurance?
Most initial consultation fees fall under the scope of Medicare. More specific services and Vision Therapy may or may not. It is essential to discuss this with your Behavioural Optometrist prior to commencing any program.