Vision & Learning
Eighty percent of a child’s learning is done visually. If your child is having visual difficulties, it is likely impacting their ability to learn. Whether they are struggling to see the whiteboard in the distance, or having trouble focusing clearly on their reading, your child may not be learning to their full potential. This can have a long term effect on your child’s performance and confidence in the classroom - and in life.
It is likely that your child is unaware there is any problem with their vision. For them, what they see is normal and so they may not know to report any symptoms to you.
Signs that your child may be struggling with their vision include:
- Frequent rubbing of eyes
- Tired Eyes
- Watery Eyes
- Sitting too close to the TV
- Light Sensitivity
- Losing their place while reading
- Covering one eye to read
In New Zealand, the District Health Boards run Vision and Hearing Screening programmes in preschools, schools and clinics. These screenings typically only test your child’s distance and colour vision. It is recommended that you take your child for a full eye exam with an optometrist before they start school, or earlier if you have concerns about their vision. Be aware that vision changes over time, so do not assume that your child has no vision difficulties just because they have had their eyes examined in the past.
If you or your child has a valid Community Services Card or High Use Health Card and the child is 15 years or younger, they may be eligible to receive a spectacle subsidy through ENABLE. The full amount of $287.50 inc GST can be accessed every twelve months and may be used to cover the cost of eye examinations, frames and lenses, repairs and eye patches. To find out more about the subsidy, click here.
Common Visual Problems Affecting Children
Myopia is the medical term for short sightedness. It causes objects in the distance to appear blurry while those up close remain clear. How far you can see clearly into the distance depends on the severity of the myopia. Myopia is caused when the eye continues to grow to be longer than typical, meaning that light isn’t able to reach the receptors on the retina at the back of the eye. This causes the blurred vision in the distance. It will often begin to develop around puberty and vision may progressively get worse until the eye is fully grown. It is usually corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
Hyperopia is the medical term for long sightedness. It results in your eyes to be unable to focus clearly on close objects. Tasks such as reading and writing can be difficult and may cause eye strain when trying to make the eyes focus properly. It can happen when the eyeball is too short, the cornea is too flat or the lens is too thin. This means that light doesn’t form a clear focal point on the retina.
Objects in the distance are often perfectly clear, but are blurred up close. Some children are born long sighted and this can often correct itself as the eyes grow. Glasses or contact lenses may be prescribed to correct long sightedness.
Astigmatism occurs when the cornea or lens is an irregular shape. Rather than being spherical, the cornea or lens is elongated, almost like a rugby ball. This causes blurred and distorted vision, sometimes resulting in double vision depending on the severity. Astigmatism is very common and can occur alongside short or long sightedness. It is often present from birth but can develop following an injury to the eye. It can be corrected with prescription glasses or contact lenses.
No two eyes are the same. It is common to require a different prescription for each eye to correct any refractive problems. It is also possible for one eye to be short and the other to be long sighted. Astigmatism can occur in one or both eyes.
Strabismus is commonly referred to as crossed or wandering eyes. It occurs when one or both eyes turn in or out, up or down. The wandering eye may be permanently turned, or may only turn when the child is tired or looking at a particular distance. It is caused either by weak eye muscles failing to hold the eye in the right alignment, or the brain may be unable to coordinate both eyes at the same time.
As strabismus results in the eyes being misaligned, they are unable to work together to give one clear image. Instead the brain receives two different images. This would normally cause double vision, but in cases of strabismus, the child’s brain prevents this by suppressing the crossed or wandering eye. The end result is that the child only sees through one eye at a time. Strabismus typically develops in children before the age of two but can occur as late as age six. It can also occur in older children and adults following a head injury or stroke. In very mild cases, prescription glasses may correct the problem.
Usually some form of vision therapy is the most effective treatment. Crossed or wandering eyes are common in young infants as they learn to coordinate their eyes and so should not usually be a cause for concern.
Amblyopia is better known as a lazy eye. This means that the brain favours one eye over the other. The suppressed eye does not develop clear vision, resulting in permanently blurred vision even with glasses. A lazy eye can be caused by a number of conditions that prevent the brain from using both eyes together.
Sometimes a large difference in the extent of near or far sightedness between the eyes can make it hard for the brain to focus them together. The eye with the poorest vision is suppressed to give a lazy eye.
In other cases, strabismus (wandering eye) can result in a lazy eye as the child will only use their straight eye to see, preventing clear vision from developing in the crossed eye. Treatment typically involves some form of vision therapy to encourage the use of the lazy eye. Glasses may also be prescribed to assist with poor vision.
Colour Vision Deficiency
Problems with colour vision vary greatly in severity. The most common type of colour blindness is red/green, meaning that the individual mixes up colours which have red or green in them. They often struggle to distinguish between blues and purples. Similar problems can occur across the whole colour spectrum. In some rare cases people are unable to see any colour at all.
Colour vision deficiency predominantly affects males but can also occur in females. The cause is usually genetic, but it may also develop as a result of diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis or over time with use of some medications.
Eye Teaming And Tracking Problems
In order for the brain to form one clear image, the eyes need to be directed at the same point in space. Eye Teaming problems arise when the eyes can only be focused to work together for short periods at a time. When a child is reading this causes visual strain and eventually blurred or double print. Teaming problems often make it hard for the child to focus when reading and they may be easily distracted. These can be readily corrected with glasses and/or vision therapy.
Children with tracking difficulties are not able to control their eye movements at close range such as when reading. Instead of reading a line in one fluid motion, the eyes jump around on the page. This can make it difficult for the child to comprehend what they are reading as they are often losing their place. They may have to use their finger when reading to keep their place.