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Children start learning at a young age and up to 80% of what they learn they derive from what they see. This is why eyesight health and eye health exams are very important, as any issues a child encounters with their eyesight can interfere with their ability to learn and the speed with which they use that ability.

There are 17 key visual skills that a child needs for learning, and at least seven of those a child needs for reading. Here are the seven visual skills that are highly essential in developing the ability to read:

1. Visual Acuity

Eye health exams are performed by professionals often when the patient is still young, as this will help determine whether there are problems with the child’s eyes. One of the things a doctor examines is visual acuity.

A child’s academic performance may be affected if they have problems with visual acuity, which is the clarity or sharpness of eyesight. This is usually represented by a fraction, and this is where we get the term 20/20 vision. This simply means the child can see clearly with both eyes from a distance of 20 feet.

That being said, visual acuity is not that important when it comes to reading, at least not as important as other visual skills. If visual acuity is off, it is possible to choose eyeglass frames with prescription lenses that fit the child.

2. Eye Tracking and Teaming

This is more important than visual acuity when it comes to reading. It’s the ability of the child to use their eyes in coordination with each other. In other words, the eyes are supposed to work together.

Eye teaming is when the child learns to use their two eyes as a team. Though it may seem to come naturally for most, it is sometimes faulty in others. Exophoria, an eye problem in which the eyes tend to deviate in an outward direction, is one example of an eye teaming problem.

3. Convergence

The inward movement of the eyes that is necessary for reading is called convergence. Using exophoria again as an example, convergence is difficult to achieve if the child’s eyes are deviating outward. 

While it is still possible for the child to read, they must make an effort to maintain their eyes’ fixation on what they are reading. This is called “convergence insufficiency”. This eye problem may have a huge effect on how a child develops their reading skills and how they maintain their focus on classwork.

Convergence insufficiency may be to blame if the child experiences double vision or overlapping vision. They may lose their place in what they’re reading. You might notice your child using their finger, a ruler, or some other marker to help them read. In most cases, it’s the small words that the child will omit while reading, so they might fill in the “blanks” with words just to make the sentence make sense.

4. Esophoria

The eyes turn inwards when the child has esophoria, the opposite of exophoria. When a child has esophoria, what they see is smaller than it actually is. If you ever notice your child burying their head in a book, it’s because they are trying to make the letters or objects in the book appear larger by bringing the book closer to their eyes. This may be because of esophoria. Even if the child is wearing eyeglass frames with prescription lenses, it may not be sufficient.

5. Directionality

If you’ve ever seen that drawing of a figure that can either be a duck looking to your left or a rabbit looking to your right, then you’ve seen one of the most common tests for directionality. The purpose of the test is to determine whether the child’s visual reflex is from left to right or in the opposite direction. A left-to-right visual reflex will allow the child to see the duck first. A right-to-left visual reflex will make them see the rabbit first.

As the English language proceeds from left to right (as is demonstrated by how you’re reading this), your child should see the duck first. However, if a child’s cultural convention has taught them to read from right to left (eg. Arabic, Farsi, Aramaic), they are likely to see the rabbit.

If the child is having difficulty reading English from left to right, vision therapy can help them develop this skill.

6. Span of Perception

Reading speed is one of the most important components of learning. If a child has problems with their eyes’ span of perception, their reading speed and comprehension will be affected. 

A child should be able to see complete words in sentences when they read, but if each eye fixation allows them to see only part of a word or just one word at a time, they have an issue with a narrow span of perception. Vision therapy is necessary for widening the child’s span of perception.

7. Visualization

Ever heard of the phrase, “seeing things in the mind’s eye?” This applies to visualization. 

Many authorities believe that a person’s ability to visualize is closely related to their ability to think. A child must be able to abstract from specific details. This is not easy if visualization is impaired. However, vision therapy can also help a child develop this important skill.

How to Tell if Your Child Has Vision Problems

Young children might not be able to tell their parents if they have difficulties with their eyesight. However, you might still be able to determine whether your child has normal vision or if they’re experiencing some vision challenges. The earlier the problem is identified, the better the chances of successful vision therapy, at least for some of the possible problems.

Here are some of the signs you should watch out for:

  • Your child is often complaining about headaches.
  • Your child often talks about not being able to see things clearly.
  • Your child often rubs their eyes.
  • Your child has itchy eyes or complains about feeling that their “eyes are burning.”
  • You notice your child covering or shutting one eye whenever they read.
  • Your child tilts their head at an angle to watch TV or read a book.
  • You notice that your child holds a book too close to their face or buries their face in the book.
  • When they read, your child has to move their head.
  • Your child seems to omit the small words whenever they read.
  • You notice that your child has difficulty concentrating.
  • Your child copies from a blackboard and you notice they’ve written incorrect words or letters.
  • Your child often loses their place while they’re copying.
  • When your child writes columns of numbers, some digits are misaligned.
  • Your child avoids doing close work, particularly reading and writing.
  • You notice that your child becomes tired after doing close work.
  • Your child blinks normally, except when they are doing close work, at which time they seem to blink too frequently.
  • Your child reads or writes reversed letters or numbers.
  • Your child is unable to write straight. Their writing goes uphill or downhill and their spacing is irregular.

It’s also a good idea to take your child to an eye doctor early if you have a history of eye issues in the family, or if you already have a child or children who have eye problems.

There are many other eye-related problems that only a professional can identify. For example, if your child has problems with dry eyes, only a doctor can determine what is causing the problem and recommend an appropriate treatment, such as Lipiflow.

It’s important to remember that eye problems are not always easily detectable. Your child might not show any obvious signs that they are struggling, and they might not know how to tell you. Whether you suspect anything or not, take your child to your eye doctor at least once a year for a checkup.

Diet and nutrition are also important in your child’s visual development. Instead of relying on supplements, encourage your child to eat more healthy food such as leafy greens and fruits.

Do you have more questions? Ask Excel Eyecare OD PA for more information about your child’s eyesight. You can also talk to us about Lipiflow for dry eye disease, and about other procedures. Call us today at (980) 319-1870 or schedule an appointment here.