When kids struggle at school, parents and teachers try to identify the cause of the problem. They wonder whether the student can see or hear properly, or whether he or she has learning problems such as dyslexia. An ordinary eye test might show that a child can see perfectly well, but it may not tell the full story. Visual skills can be just as important as eyesight itself, and this point is often poorly understood or overlooked, says Gary Rodney, a behavioural optometrist and fellow of the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control.

The Visual Skills Children Need to Succeed in School

Being able to focus on an eye-test chart isn’t enough. It’s also important to be able to focus at various distances and change focus easily from one distance to another. Apart from being able to focus, eyes need to be able to track from one thing to the next. For example, when reading, the eyes must be able to scan from one word to the next without losing their place. At the same time, both eyes need to be able to work together as a team.

Over and above these basic visual skills, people need the ability to process spatial information, notice small differences between one thing and another, be able to coordinate what is done in relation to what is seen (eye-hand coordination), and be able to associate what is seen with what is heard. 

Any issues with these visual skills will naturally result in problems with schoolwork. Up to 25 percent of children have visual difficulties of one kind or another, so having a thorough eye examination that includes testing of visual skills is a sensible step to take when children struggle at school.

Not all Optometrists Test Visual Skills

Regular Optometrists and eye surgeons (Ophthalmologists) are trained to test how well one can see, but it takes further training to be able to comprehensively test all the visual skills needed to succeed at school. 

That’s why many parents and educators eliminate issues with vision as a reason for children having difficulty with schoolwork too soon. After all, ordinary eye tests may show that a child has 20/20 vision, but without evaluation of the additional visual skills that will allow children to use their eyesight in learning, parents and teachers can mistake visual processing disorders for learning problems. As a result, the real issue is not addressed, and a child may be unable to fulfil his or her true potential.

Steps to Take When Children Struggle to Learn

Gary Rodney acknowledges that although full evaluation of vision and related visual skills can identify issues that are holding children back, other factors may contribute to difficulties with learning. 

If a child is struggling at school, testing of visual and auditory skills are a good first step. Gary’s practice, Eyes in Design, located in Mosman, will also be able to refer parents to the relevant health practitioners if dyslexia or other learning problems are suspected but have not been diagnosed. Even when a formal diagnosis has occurred, addressing any visual skills difficulties will help children to deal better with the challenges they face. 

“Vision therapy is not a panacea,” says Gary. “However sometimes, it’s all that’s needed to get kids on track. After all it has been shown that 80% of how we learn comes through the visual pathway. In other cases vision may not be the cause of the problem, or it may only be a contributing factor. Either way, Eyes in Design’s vision therapists are ready to assist parents in finding the practitioners they need to help children with the learning challenges they face.”

HEAR: Ultra106.5FM Interview with Gary Rodney – Covid and Myopia: What you need to know!

For more information on vision therapy, or to book an appointment for a visual perception test online, visit the Smart Vision website: Optometrists Sydney: Optometry Services For Children and Adults | Smart Vision; for specific information about Myopia treatment and prevention visit Myopia Prevention: Solutions, Control And Treatment In Sydney; and for detailed information about Myopia Treatment visit Orthokeratology In Sydney: The Non Surgical Alternative.

To book an appointment for a thorough eye check-up, click here or Call the Bondi clinic on (02) 9365 5047 or the Mosman clinic on (02) 9969 1600.

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