By Dr Nicholas Altuneg
The end of summer signals the return to school, and parents are diligently checking off lists: uniforms, stationery, and packed lunches. Yet, amidst the hustle and bustle, there’s one crucial item that often goes unnoticed — your child’s eyes and vision. School kids need an eye test at the beginning of every year. Here’s why ensuring your child’s vision is essential for their academic journey.
The vital role of vision in learning
Vision significantly influences your child’s ability to learn. Approximately 80 to 85% of the information they absorb is received through their eyes.
Surprisingly, 1 in 4 children of all ages have a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance in school.
Impaired vision can become a potential barrier to their learning and, if left undetected, can affect their academic performance and confidence in the classroom.
Overlooking vision problems
Many children adapt to vision problems, assuming everyone sees the world in the same way that they do. Unfortunately, more than 411,000 children in Australia have difficulty with clarity of vision, with near or far–sightedness being the most common. Many more children with 20/20 vision suffer from visually related learning difficulties due to binocular vision anomalies or visual information processing disorders. Traditional school or preschool screening tests often miss over 90% of vision problems.
Standard child eye exams typically focus on how clearly a child can see, focusing on improving clarity of vision and checking for eye disease. These exams often fail to assess the complexities of vision if they don’t consider how the eyes function or how the brain interprets visual information.
The silent challenge
Imagine this: your child is sitting in a classroom, trying their best to focus on the teacher’s instructions. However, they’re quietly struggling because they are mixing up letters, the words are moving on the page, or they keep losing their place when they read. Instead of complaining, they adapt, squinting or straining their eyes, believing this is how everyone experiences the world.
As parents and educators, it’s not uncommon for us to misinterpret these silent struggles. We might think the child is being difficult, inattentive, or simply disinterested in learning. The truth is that these behaviours often stem from an undiagnosed vision problem, despite the child’s best efforts to cope with it.
Could my child have dyslexia?
Suppose your child is under performing academically relative to their ability. In that case, they either have dyslexia, a visually–related learning problem or a combination of both. Visually–related learning problems are often mistaken for dyslexia, as many symptoms appear similar.
Dyslexia is a difficult label because many potential causes could be associated, and a lot of investigations need to be made. A visually–related learning problem is easily diagnosed and treated by a Behavioural Optometrist. It could save time, energy and money exploring areas that may not need to be investigated.
What signs will I see?
Most children don’t report visual problems because they assume that everybody else sees or feels the same way that they do. If the board in the classroom is blurry, if the words move on the page, or if they get sore eyes or headaches when they read, they assume this occurs for everyone else in the same situation and don’t think to complain.
If you observe any of the following behaviours as a family member or an educator, then we would recommend the need for an eye examination:
- Loss of place reading or needing to use their finger as a guide.
- Letter, number or word reversals.
- Postural changes such as getting very close to the page, covering one eye, turning the head or fidgeting while reading.
- Difficulty sustaining focus or attention.
- Frequent squinting, excessive blinking or eye rubbing.
- Confusing words that look similar.
- Difficulty remembering what they read.
- These symptoms are just a few of many.
The role of behavioral optometry
Behavioural Optometrists, who specialise in the connection between vision and classroom learning, can pinpoint and address subtle yet significant vision problems related to both visual function and visual information processing.
The link between vision and achievement
Research and clinical studies underline the strong connection between academic achievement and visual abilities. Seeing is a mental process that involves interpreting shapes, distances, colours and controlling movement. To excel in school, your child needs clear, stable and confident vision. Optimising their visual function will give them the best chance to thrive academically.
Treatment options for learning–related vision problems
Behavioural Optometric treatments, such as training lenses and vision therapy, can significantly enhance your child’s ability to process visual information efficiently and improve visual recall. These treatments have shown remarkable success in enhancing school performance and can be tailored to individual needs.
The impact of lenses on classroom learning
Correctly prescribed lenses can make a substantial difference in the classroom. They not only correct sight but can also be prescribed for specific purposes, such as reading, crafts, or computer use, to enhance function in these areas. Additionally, glasses alleviate issues like poor focus and eye imbalance, improving overall comfort and performance.
Prioritise your child’s vision
As a parent, your child’s wellbeing is paramount. Taking the time to schedule an eye test with an experienced Behavioural Optometrist is a small effort that can yield invaluable insights into your child’s eye health and readiness for their educational journey. Boost your child’s self confidence and ensure they are well prepared for the classroom challenges.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general eye health topics. It should not be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care professional prior to incorporating this as part of your health regimen.
Dr Nicholas Altuneg is a Behavioural Optometrist who has been working on the Central Coast for almost 30 years. He is the co–founder at Eyes by Design, which is in the Kincumber Centre. Appointments can be made by phone 4369 8169 or online at www.eyesbydesign.com.au