Vision and Learning

Children's eye exams can play an important role in normal development because vision is closely linked to the learning process. Experts say that 80% of what your child learns in school is presented visually. Undetected vision problems can put them at a significant disadvantage. Children who have trouble seeing or interpreting what they see will often have trouble with school and athletic performance. Many times children will not complain of vision problems simply because they don't know what "normal" vision looks like.

When should kids have their eyes examined?

As a parent, you may wonder whether your pre-school or school-age child has a vision problem or when a first eye exam should be scheduled. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age. Children then should receive additional eye exams at 3 years of age, and just before they enter kindergarten at about age 5 or 6.

Experts say 5-10 percent of pre-schoolers and 25 percent of school-aged children have vision problems. Early identification of a child's vision problem is crucial because, if left untreated, some childhood vision problems can cause permanent vision loss.

Early eye exams also are important because children need the following basic visual skills for learning:

  • Near vision
  • Distance vision
  • Eye teaming (binocularity) skills
  • Eye movement skills
  • Focusing skills
  • Peripheral awareness
  • Eye/hand coordination

If good visual skills have not been developed, learning can be difficult and stressful. Children may react in one or more ways, including:

  • Avoiding reading and other near visual work as much as possible
  • Attempting to do the work but with decreased understanding
  • Being an "underachiever"
  • Having a short attention span
  • Getting fatigued easily
  • Clumsiness or poor athletic performance

What's the difference between a vision screening and a complete eye exam?

Vision screenings are general eye tests that are meant to help identify people who are at risk for vision problems. Screenings include brief vision tests performed by a school nurse, pediatrician or volunteers. A vision screening can indicate that you need to get an eye exam but never serves as a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam.

The Examination

As part of a complete eye exam, Dr. Smith will perform a thorough evaluation for refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism), external and internal eye health, as well as these vision problems commonly found in young children:

  • Amblyopia: Also commonly called "lazy eye," this is decreased vision in one or both eyes despite the absence of any eye health problem or damage. Common causes of amblyopia include strabismus (see below) and a significant difference in the refractive errors of the two eyes.
  • Strabismus: This is misalignment of the eyes, often caused by a congenital defect in the positioning or strength of muscles that are attached to the eye and which control eye positioning and movement. Left untreated, strabismus can cause amblyopia in the misaligned eye.
  • Convergence insufficiency: This is the inability to keep the eye comfortably aligned for reading and other near tasks. Convergence insufficiency can often be successfully treated with vision therapy, a specific program of eye exercises.
  • Focusing problems: Children with focusing problems (also called accommodation problems) may have trouble changing focus from distance to near and back again (accommodative infacility) or have problems maintaining adequate focus for reading (accommodative insufficiency). These problems often can be successfully treated with vision therapy.
  • Eye teaming problems: Many eye teaming (binocularity) problems are more subtle than strabismus. Deficiencies in eye teaming skills can cause problems with depth perception and coordination.

If your child performs poorly at school, exhibits a reading or learning problem, or is excessivelly "clumsy", be sure to schedule an eye examination with River Place Vision Center to rule out any underlying visual cause.