We are all amazed by how quickly young children learn. They are discovering themselves and the world around them, and connecting new words and concepts to what they see, feel and hear.
However, it is difficult to copy a sound if it can’t be heard correctly. If a child has poor depth perception, exploring the world will be harder. What if you can’t see details or where you are going?
We easily recognize children with speech and language difficulty because we hear them struggle. How do you recognize a child with a vision problem? Often, you can’t. Is it motor skills? Balance? Judgment, interest, personality, shyness? We hardly ever ask – is it vision?
The same is true as infants, toddlers and preschoolers mature into school age children. When they experience headaches, poor coordination, learning problems, carsickness, apprehension in sports, etc., the first question that comes to mind is rarely, “Could this be a vision problem?” But often, it should be.
Vision is learned, just like walking and speech and language. Although vision can be developed and enhanced at any age just like sports performance or learning a new language, experts agree that early intervention is best.
Approximately 75 percent to 90 percent of learning is visual in nature. Vision guides us in almost everything we do from picturing the task to be done, to refining our actions as we do it; from recognizing faces, places, objects and symbols (letters, numbers, words) to creating our image of the world as we explore or read about it. Vision enables us to reach out and collect information around us and to understand and use that information to make decisions and guide our actions. It is revealing that at least 20 percent of individuals with learning disabilities have been found to have significant visual information processing problems that cannot be identified by a vision screening.
We need accurate eye movement control to aim our eyes and to focus correctly. These skills are what enable us to see clearly, to track around an object to analyze it, and to move from one object to another to know where it is in relation to ourselves and to other objects. We need to do this with both eyes simultaneously to appreciate depth. Otherwise, we see double. We need to decide if the object is moving or if we are moving. Otherwise, we will become motion sick. We need to move our eyes accurately across a line of print. Otherwise, we will get lost on the page.
For language to develop, it is not enough to simply echo a sound correctly. Sound combinations have to have meaning. For vision to develop, it is not enough to simply see lines clearly (see 20/20). We need to learn how to analyze, understand, remember and use what we see.
Visual processing involves:
- Recognition of details (similarities and differences such as c,e,b,d)
- Selective attention to what is important (the teacher or the kids in front of you)
- Knowing where to look next (to find the next word or line, to predict where the ball will be to catch it)
- Recognition of words, regardless of font, size, or color (even the fancy “O” in Once upon a time)
- Recognition of objects even when they are partly obscured (the milk container way back in the refrigerator)
- Remembering sequences of symbols to spell words and build sight vocabulary for comprehension in reading (“Two girls went to town too late to see the movie”). All those “2s” sound alike but visually, they each mean something different.
- It is important to know that a hidden vision problem is not interfering with our child’s development. That is why their first comprehensive vision examination is key. It is the only way to know if they are visually ready for all the learning that lies before them.
Carol Marusich, O.D., M.S., FCOVD, is in private practice at Lifetime Eye Care and lectures internationally on vision development and learning-related vision problems. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Visit parentingnow.org or call 541-484-5316. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org/