Vision is the Key to Learning

Is your child struggling in school? Maybe we can help. One in six children has a vision related problem that can affect their learning. Many of these problems affect the upper levels of the visual system and are not routinely tested for during a routine eye exam. I have a special interest in developmental optometry, which is the assessment of the upper levels of the visual system. I offer Developmental Vision Assessments (DVA) to test for any visual conditions in these areas that may affect learning.

The visual system can be pictured as a pyramid with three layers. The bottom layer is called Visual Integrity and is the foundation of the visual system.

This is the level typically tested during the routine eye exam. This level includes the vision/prescription test, basic eye muscle testing and comprehensive eye health examination.

The second level of the visual system is called Visual Efficiency. This level involves the three eye muscle systems: eye focusing, convergence and eye- tracking. The DVA tests the eye focusing muscles to ensure they have adequate strength, ability to change focus from near to far and the stamina to sustain near focus for an adequate period of time. We test the same areas for the convergence muscles. For eye-tracking muscles, we test the speed and accuracy of the smooth-tracking skills (used when reading across a line of print) and the accuracy and efficiency of the saccadic tracking (moving from the end of one line of print to the beginning of the next).

Deficiencies in any of these areas can result in learning issues. For example, poor smooth eye-tracking is a common cause of children falling behind in reading. Vision therapy has a high success rate in treating most eye muscle conditions. Like other muscles in the body, the eye muscles respond to proper exercise and will gain strength, speed and coordination. In vision- related learning eye muscle conditions, successful therapy can help improve the child’s school performance.

The top level of the visual system is called Visual Information Processing. This is visual perception; the brain must give meaning to what the eyes have seen. There are many areas of visual processing including visual memory, visual sequential processing, visual processing speed and visual spatial skills.

Any deficiency in visual processing can result in significant struggles with learning. For example, visual sequential processing is the ability to see something presented in a sequence and recall it back in the correct order. Now think about learning and where a child would use this skill. The answer is everywhere: spelling, math, reading a sentence or paragraph and recalling what it said, and copying from the board, to name a few. These are crucial areas to learning and a deficiency can result in a significant struggle with learning. Therapy for visual processing skills also has quite a high success rate at improving the deficient area and thus improving the child’s performance at school.