For most school children, as much as 80% of their learning occurs through their eyes. Reading a blackboard, looking at books, using a computer, watching the teacher and observing the other students are some of the ways vision is used in the classroom. Being able to understand the information that comes through their eyes is paramount to a student’s success at school.

Although most school children have some sort of eye exams during their school years, many of them have vision problems that go undetected or misdiagnosed. Because eyesight and vision are different, a child can have 20/20 eyesight and still have vision issues. Even when teachers or parents suspect a vision issue and order an eye exam, the problems are not always uncovered because not all doctors know how to identify them.

The difference between eyesight and vision is key to understanding some vision-related learning problems. Eyesight is simply one’s ability to see clearly and is determined through an eye exam usually involving a Snellen chart (the one with all the Es).

Vision is best described as the brain’s understanding of what is seen. Vision involves being able to take visual information, process it and obtain meaning from it. When a child has a vision issue, it affects the way the brain interprets the information being gathered by the eyes. Although the eyes may be able to focus, the information they are transferring to the brain may get reversed, doubled or jumbled in some other way. This can result in confusion and frustration for students, teachers, and parents. When a child gets confused or frustrated they can act out in the classroom, become angry or depressed, withdraw, experience low self-esteem, think they are “stupid” or even give up altogether. Many children with vision issues are labeled as hyperactive, troublemakers, daydreamers, class clowns, learning disabled or just plain lazy.

Because a child with vision issues can have healthy eyes and 20/20 eyesight, identifying the issue can be difficult unless the child is tested by an optometrist who knows what to look for. The right doctor may ask if the child experiences any of the following:

• Excessive blinking or squinting
• Frequent closing of one eye
• Turns head while reading to favor one eye
• Becomes exhausted when trying to read
• Posture issues, raising one shoulder, tilting head
• Difficulty catching or throwing
• Repeatedly confuses right and left
• Problems moving through space, runs into things, drops things
• Rubs eyes frequently
• Skips or repeats words while reading
• Uses finger to read
• Eyes cross or wander
• Frequent motion sickness
• Moves and tilts whole head instead of just moving eyes
• One eye turns, drifts or aims in a different direction than the other eye
• Crossed eye
• Does not recognize a word that was recognized a few lines before
• Poor eye-hand coordination
• Reverses letters
• Homework takes “longer than it should”
• Short attention span when reading and writing

Parents, teachers, and children can become discouraged trying to deal with these issues. Many people don’t know that, because vision is a learned skill, some of the problems can be improved upon or even corrected through vision therapy. Vision therapy is a program of individualized vision “exercises” or procedures performed under a doctor’s supervision. Although each person’s program is different, generally a patient attends one or two 30-minute, in-office sessions per week and, depending on the case, would have 15-30 minutes a day of “homework” to reinforce the work done at the office. Most patients complete vision therapy in 3-9 months but some may take longer. These processes are designed to re-train the brain and eyes to work together in a more efficient and effective way and often result in permanent correction of the problem.

Many students’ lives have been changed for the better through vision therapy. Improved grades, better understanding, less stress, more peaceful relationships, improved athletic abilities, less fatigue, and higher self-esteem are a few of the benefits of a successful vision therapy experience.

If you have a child or know someone who displays some of the symptoms listed above, encourage them to have their vision checked by one of the developmental optometrists at Family Optometry and Vision Therapy. They can help you understand more about vision-related learning issues and the ways that vision therapy could help.

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Our office is pleased to serve; Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Bainbridge Island, Vashon, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Lynnwood, Totem Lake, Sammamish, Bothel, Renton, Burien, Tukwilla, Sea Tac, Kent, and other surrounding communities in Washington. Call us at 206.624.0737 .