Vision and Learning

Important Facts
  • Optometrists do not treat learning disorders. They do treat vision problems that can affect learning.

  • Learning is affected by vision. NAPLAN scores for kids with vision issues are significantly lower

  • Up to 30% of children can have vision problems, many undetected, and often not found by basic vision checks

  • In a recent study, 63% of children with specific learning disorders had vision problems. A large study in the UK showed that children with learning disorders had double the vision problems of their unaffected peers

  • There are over 60,000 published scientific studies, providing evidence for behavioural optometry and associated treatments.

  • The principles of Behavioural Optometry are taught in Universities all over the world, including The University of Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales.

  • Behavioural Optometrists are fully Registered Optometrists and have the same or more qualifications as regular optometrists

The Importance of Vision

Why do some children have difficulty learning to read and write, or ongoing problems reading to learn more?

Learning to read is much easier if vision and hearing are working normally. A child should also have age-normal development of vision perception and auditory processing, so they can learn to recognise and remember shapes of letters, and connect them to the matching letter sound and letter name. Then they have to learn combinations of letters (ar, sh, ea…), as well as learn to accurately and quickly recognise small, then larger “whole” words.

Over the years many theories have been suggested for learning problems. Decades ago vision was thought to be a major factor, and then phonological problems were believed to be the major issue. Recently, vision function and development of vision perception (processing) have been confirmed by research to be very important factors. Yet learning problems are almost always due to a combination of reasons, and it is important that all possible causes be investigated, and treated where necessary.

 

Dyslexia can be a significant learning disability, but reading problems can have the same symptoms as dyslexia, and the dyslexia can seem to have a greater effect as a result.

Evidence

Research of children’s classroom visual demands’ shows that vision for purpose in classrooms has less to do with sight, and more to do with visual efficiency [i] as well as strong connections between problems of visual function, visual perception [ii], and learning. A recent study by researchers from the Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education, published in the International Journal of Education Research, looked at vision screening of Grade 3 children in Australia[iii]. Approximately 30% of the children tested were identified as borderline or unsatisfactory by a vision screening and were referred for a full eye examination. Children found to have vision problems scored significantly lower on NAPLAN tests of reading, grammar and punctuation, spelling and numeracy, when compared to their not-referred peers. In the majority of cases children had binocular vision problems (poor eye coordination), focusing errors, or a combination of the two, which can all affect a child’s ability to achieve comfortable, clear, single vision for reading.

Children with uncorrected short-sightedness (myopia) and long sightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism have been shown to have lower achievement test scores. Early detection and treatment of vision problems can help remediate the effect of learning-related vision difficulties, and once vision problems are identified and treated, reading can improve [iv]. Eye movement development is important to be able to scan along words and lines of reading, and can be tested and improved, as shown by a recently published study in which treatment of eye movements improved reading fluency and comprehension [v].

References

[i] Narayanasami S. Visual demands in modern Australian primary classrooms. Clinical and Experimental Optometry 2016;99:233-240.

[ii] Shin HS et al. Relationship between accommodative and vergence dysfunctions and academic achievement for primary school children. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics 2009;29:615-624.

[iii] White SLJ, Wood JM et al. Vision screening outcomes of Grade 3 children in Australia: Differences in academic achievement. International Journal of Educational Research 2017;83:154–159.

[iv] Roch-Levecq AC et al. Ametropia, preschoolers' cognitive abilities, and effects of spectacle correction. Archives of Ophthalmology 2008 Feb;126(2):252-8.

[v] Dodick D et al. The effect of in – school saccadic training on reading fluency and comprehension in first and second grade students. Journal of Child Neurology 2017;32:104-111.

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