Ready For School— Or Not?

Thursday August 11 2016

Origanally published in Fall 2012

You have decided on your educational curriculum for the coming school year. You have your course schedule completed. You have purchased the needed school supplies. You have your child’s brand new school clothes (for homeschoolers that is usually a new pair of pajamas). Everything is ready to go. However, you may be missing one of the most critical aspects of your child’s learning, his vision.

Many parents believe that if their child can see the bird in the tree across the yard, the street sign at the end of the block, the text in the textbooks or the date on a coin, their child’s vision is satisfactory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even traditional school screenings often miss many of the most common vision problems that can interfere with learning.

Vision is not eyesight. Vision incorporates many skills needed for learning, not just how sharply you can see across the room. Eyesight is the capacity of the eye to see clearly, measured by determining the finest detail that can be detected. This is called visual acuity. On the other hand, vision incorporates visual acuity (eyesight) plus the following additional skills:

Eye tracking—eyes following a line of print.

Eye teaming—two eyes working together as a synchronized team

Binocular vision—simultaneously blending the images from both eyes into one image

eye focusing

Visual—motor integration—eye-hand coordination

Visual perception—visual memory, visual form perception, and visualization

As you can see, eyesight is only one small part of the visual skill set needed for learning and reading. It is easy to take your child’s vision for granted. After all, young eyes are healthy eyes, right? Not necessarily. According to the Vision Council of America, one in every four children has a vision problem that can interfere with learning.

nfortunately, many children do not have the ability to understand or describe their vision problems. Therefore, you cannot expect children to complain to you even though they may have problems with the above listed skills. As a Developmental Optometrist, when I find deficits in a child’s vision skills, I always discuss with the parents the behaviors or symptoms which may be observable in their child’s schoolwork. Many times the parent states, “I have that same problem when reading,” and they never associated their symptoms with a vision problem.

In one case, a close family relative, who has had perfect eyesight his entire life, brought in his grade school daughter, who was having problems with reading, for an academically-related vision examination. She had a vision problem that was easily remedied. As I explained her condition and its related behaviors, the father said, “That happens when I read.” After his condition was remedied, he stated, “The words no longer move around on the page.” I asked him, “When do they move?” and he replied, “They have always moved. I thought that was normal and that everyone saw that way.” When I explained to him that the words are not supposed to move, and that what he was seeing was not normal, he exclaimed, “How was I supposed to know that?”

And that is exactly what makes a vision problem difficult for parents to detect. Children do not know that what they are seeing is not normal, and parents often do not know what to look for or what questions to ask. Children only know what they see, not what they are supposed to see. If an adult cannot ascertain that he has a problem, how can we expect a child to do so? As the academic leader in your child’s education, it is your responsibility to discover problems that may be roadblocks to your child’s learning.

If your child is displaying any of the following symptoms or behaviors, you need to determine if he has an academically- related vision problem.

• Eyes tire when reading
• Short attention span
• Dislike or avoidance of reading
• Poor gross motor coordination
 – difficulty throwing or catching a ball
 – difficulty skipping
 – difficulty riding a bike
 – appears clumsy
• Poor fine motor coordination
 – difficulty tying a shoe
 – poor handwriting
 – difficulty copying text
• Placing head close to books when reading
• Using a finger or pencil to guide eyes
• Excessive blinking or eye rubbing
• Covering or closing an eye
• Decreased performance in school
• Headaches

A child who has a visually-related learning problem can move forward academically, but it is similar to driving a car with the brakes on. You can move forward, but with lots of strain, stress and resistance.

The American Optometric Association recommends that children have a comprehensive annual eye exam. It is important that you ensure the above areas of concern are tested, as not all vision examinations check for academically- related vision problems.

Dr. Samuel Oliphant is a homeschool dad. He and his wife Tina have five children and one grandchild. Dr. Oliphant is the founder of the Oliphant Institute, Center of Integrated Learning. He maintains a busy private practice in Oklahoma City specializing in children with learning difficulties and brain injured patients. Dr. Oliphant is a graduate of Southern College of Optometry where he participated in an intensified pediatric vision internship under the tutelage of Dr. John Streff, the Vision Director of Yale University Gesell Institute for Child Development. Dr. Oliphant is one of a limited number of Developmental Doctors of Optometry.