If you suspect your child has a vision problem, your first step is to schedule a routine eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Most youngsters who have vision problems simply have nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. These refractive errors can be easily corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses.
However, it’s estimated that 20 percent of school-aged children have visual skills problems that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses alone. These problems may require vision therapy.
Symptoms of Poor Visual Skills
Symptoms of incomplete development of visual skills or stress caused by poor visual skills include:
- Headaches. Especially headaches that are localized near the eyes or forehead and occur after reading, computer work, or other near vision tasks.
- Blurred vision. If blurred vision persists after corrective lenses are prescribed or a routine eye exam does not reveal the presence of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, it may be caused by a visual skills problem.
- Double vision. If two objects are seen when only one exists, or a ghost image is present around objects, it may indicate poor eye alignment or focusing skills.
- Squinting or closing one eye. This may indicate double vision caused by poor eye alignment or poor vision in one eye only.
- Excessive blinking. This may be a symptom of difficulty maintaining focus or keeping the eyes properly aligned.
- Overall discomfort and fatigue. Excessive weariness after near tasks or getting sleepy while reading may indicate excessive visual stress from poor visual skills.
- Short attention span. This too may be due to eye fatigue when reading.
- Reduced performance. Whether the problem is poor academic performance or sports performance, the problem may be rooted in poor visual skills.
If your child shows any of these symptoms after a routine eye exam (and after wearing corrective lenses, if prescribed), consider seeing an optometrist who specialized in vision therapy for a more in-depth binocular vision evaluation.
A binocular vision evaluation includes the testing of a number of dynamic visual skills that are not typically investigated during a routine eye exam. These skills include (but are not limited to):
- Tracking. The ability to follow a moving object (such as a ball in flight) smoothly and accurately.
- Fixation. The ability to quickly and accurately locate and recognize a series of stationary objects in succession (required when moving the eyes from word to word while reading).
- Accommodative (focusing) flexibility. The ability to look quickly from far to near and back again without blur (required when copying from a chalkboard in the classroom).
- Depth perception. The ability to judge the relative distances of both stationary and moving objects (required when attempting to hit a ball or park a car). Requires good binocularity – the ability to use both eyes together equally, simultaneously, and accurately as a team. “Clumsiness” can sometimes be attributed to poor depth perception.
- Peripheral awareness. The ability to monitor and interpret what is happening around you while attending to a task at hand. Also, the ability to use visual information from a wide field of view.
- Visual/perceptual skills. One example is the ability to quickly locate an object within a visually cluttered background (required when attempting to locate a specific word within a page of print).
For most of us, these visual skills develop normally and become an automatic part of our ability to see. But for others, these skills don’t develop as they should and can contribute to eye fatigue, discomfort, and possibly reading problems, poor academic performance, and poor performance in sports.
If a binocular vision evaluation reveals that one or more important visual skills is deficient, the optometrist may prescribe a program of vision therapy.
Good Vision Shouldn’t Be Hard Work
Poor visual skills don’t always cause poor achievement in school or sports. Many intelligent and motivated children who have visual skills problems still manage to achieve at a normal level. But they may not be reaching their full potential if they are constantly battling eyestrain and fatigue.
Poor visual skills can also produce stress and frustration that may keep some kids from enjoying reading and school, and may discourage them from pursuing higher education.
A binocular vision evaluation by an optometrist who specializes in vision therapy can ensure your child has all the visual skills required to see clearly and comfortably in school and perform at their best – both in and out of the classroom.