Students who don’t see well don’t learn well. There may be a place to buy eyeglasses in every mall, but for many children, a visit to the eye doctor is a rare event. These children struggle with undiagnosed or untreated vision problems because they don’t have access to screenings or treatment.
Vision screenings and glasses are often prohibitively expensive for children in economically disadvantaged families. The problem is compounded in rural communities where the closest optometrist may be miles away, and families have limited transportation options.
According to the American Public Health Association, 25 percent of K-6 students have vision problems serious enough to impede learning—even those who test 20/20 on an eye chart. A host of other vision problems—such as eye tracking, visual perception or binocular vision—can be present and affect academic performance. Children with these problems are sometimes misdiagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia or other learning disabilities.
Clearly, early childhood vision screenings are imperative, but many children don’t receive them—only 21 percent of preschool children receive comprehensive vision screenings.
Educators are often the first to notice symptoms of visual deficits. Armed with the knowledge that vision problems may manifest in unexpected ways, they can help families find eye care.
If a child exhibits several of the symptoms below, taken from the Children’s Vision Information Network’s vision quiz, she may be struggling with an untreated vision problem:
- Headaches while reading or writing
- Sliding together or blurring of words when reading
- Below-grade-level reading skills
- Tendency to lose her place when reading
- Head tilt or closed eye when reading
- Difficulty copying from the board
- Dislike of reading or writing
- Leaving out small words when reading
- Difficulty writing in a straight line
- Burning, itching or watery eyes
- Difficulty understanding what she has read
- Tendency to hold books very close
- Difficulty paying attention when reading
- Difficulty finishing assignments on time
- Tendency to give up on assignments before trying
- Bumping into things, knocking things over
- Slow completion of homework
- Excessive daydreaming
- Inability to stay on task at school
If you suspect one of your students has a vision problem that is impeding her learning, take the first step.
Share your concerns with the child’s family, and identify local resources. Many schools offer free vision screenings for students, and organizations throughout the country provide free or low-cost treatment that can clear the way for students’ academic success.