Parents who have 20/20 vision tend to assume that their children will have the same perfect eyesight. This is not always the case and a large number of children may suffer from one or other type of eyesight disorder. The fact is that as many as 20% of children in our schools suffer from vision problems (which have gone undetected) and even kids who have passed the basic vision screening test have sight problems that can significantly hinder learning and cause them to fall behind their peers.
Regular eye tests are only able to measure basic vision, which means that children who undergo basic eye testing usually pass with a 20/20 score. However this does not mean that they don’t suffer from other vision problems, such as the inability to coordinate their eyes to work together as a team, the inability to follow the letters which are printed on a page without losing their place, and being unable to adjust their focus from near to far. These types of sight disorders are not picked up during regular eye screening test.
If sight problems are not treated and rectified, a child will quickly fall behind their peers and their failure to see correctly will hinder their ability to perform tasks, such as reading and copying from the board. In many cases, a child who is not able to see correctly (focus and sight) will also exhibit a number of behavioural problems which lot of parents and teachers will simply put down to being naughty or being lazy!
Here are common tell-tale signs that kids with vision problems exhibit:
- They will always appear to be sitting on top of the TV;
- Reading a book that has been positioned too close to their eyes (virtually by the tip of their noses);
- Unable to track read (constantly losing their place) or having to use their finger as a marker when reading;
- Adjusting their head in order to see better, either tilting or pulling their head backwards;
- Continual eye rubbing;
- A sensitivity to light;
- Eyes that appear to be tearing up;
- Holding one eye shut to read, or closing one eye while watching TV;
- The child may try to avoid activities that demand close up vision, such as reading or homework, or distance vision, such as sports;
- Suffering from headache or tired eyes;
- Not enjoying playing computer games, as their eyes hurt;
- Poor performance in school.
Common eyesight problems which are not usually picked up with the 20/20 vision test:
- Amblyopia, with this vision disorder, the child has a lazy eye. Often the slight lazy eye not picked up by parents and a child is able to pass the 20/20 screening test. With Amblyopia words may appear double and print may run together to create an illegible line of characters.
- Strabismus, a condition where the eyes do not align correctly, commonly known as cross-eyes. Typically when one eye is focused the other will be turned up, out or down.
- General Binocular Problems. In this instance the eyes are unable to work together and this means that the child is unable to see correctly. Reading and writing will be significantly hampered by this condition and if not treated, a child will eventually stop reading.
- Visual Perceptual Dysfunction. With this sight dysfunction, hand-eye coordination, visual memory, reversals and visual perceptual areas are greatly underdeveloped. Yet again, if this sight dysfunction is not treated, the child will fall far behind their classmates and all areas of learning will lag behind.
- Inappropriate Visual Development, when sight or visual skills do not develop correctly, it can result in a number of other visual conditions occurring. Vision problems or sight problems which are detected early in life can be rectified and the prognosis is good.
- Closed Head Trauma Syndrome: A child who has suffered a head trauma may suffer from vision problems later in life. These vision problems may include double vision, visual development and visual perception. As with other eyesight problems and disorders, if picked up and treated early, the outcome is excellent.
Often, kids who are underperforming at school and those who have been tagged as problem kids or those who are suspected as ADD sufferers, are simply unable to see correctly. Today, paediatricians and educational psychologists are the first to recommend that a child undergo Vision Therapy and Occupational Therapy in a bid to correct underperformance and even behavioural problems. For a child who is not able to focus their eyes and not able to see correctly, they will have problems concentrating and they will begin to loathe school (reading, writing, etc. is extremely difficult).
Optometrists agree that vision is far more than just being able to see clearly. Perfect vision is the ability to understand and respond to what is being seen. The fundamental visual skills is the capability of eye focusing and using both eyes together, tracking objects and moving eyes across a page of text.
It is never too early to start with visual testing and paediatric optometrists recommend that vision can be tested from as early as six months old. When problems are detected early and treatment commences early, problems such as crossed eyes and nearsightedness can be rectified. The reality of the situation is that babies are not born with the ability to focus, they are taught and vision therapy gives kids the training needed to use their eyes to focus, track, etc.
Children who have underdeveloped vision or those who are not able to see correctly will know no better. They have lived in a world of blurred vision and words which appear to be doubled, and to them this is normal. To this end, parents need to heed the warning signs which are displayed by kids who have visual problems, like headaches, squinting, learning problems, poor hand-eye coordination, and start the ball rolling by scheduling an eye examination. It is usually recommended that children visit an optometrist who specialises in paediatric cases. These trained professionals will conduct intensive tests and determine how best to treat the child.
– Kathy Baron