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Reading Difficulties in Children: Vision and Learning

Your child is lazy, he doesn’t make an effort, he needs to apply himself more, he is a slow learner, his head is in the clouds, he isn’t motivated, he needs to stay in during recess to finish his homework…

These are some arguments that we may come across during a consultation with a neuro pediatrician or at a school. The situation can get complicated and have you leaving the consultation bewildered and labeling all of the problems your child could have.

Did you know that many of the symptoms having to do with basic visual skills difficulties are similar to ADD or ADHD symptoms?

Vision takes on a basic role in learning. From childhood, we learn through our senses. We get to know the world, we explore it, and we gain experiences for the future.

We Are Visual Beings:

  • 80% of the sensory information we process depends on visual input.
  • 73% of children with learning problems have vision problems.
  • Eye exams performed in schools only detect 5% of vision problems.
  • The visual pathway consumes one-third of our brain’s total energy expenditure (in a properly working system – the pathway consumes more when it is not).
  • Out of the 3 million nerves in our brain, 2 million are for our eyes.
  • Each eye sends 1 billion messages to the brain per second.

Vision and Reading

Visual skills include: ocular motility, binocular coordination, focus, and visual acuity. It is also necessary to have good visual discrimination and integration of vision with space, involving movement, hearing, and language.

The Skills Most Involved in Reading and Writing Are:

  • Being able to place yourself on the spatial plane, on a sheet of paper, book, or notebook: to avoid getting lost on the page.
  • Aligning and focusing on an image: to avoid blurring or seeing double.
  • Focusing while moving your eyes along a line (ex. on a piece of notebook paper) so that you don’t skip letters, words, or lines: to avoid overexertion and red eyes.
  • Decoding words and visualizing their meaning. This is essential for having good reading comprehension.

Ocular motor skills have nothing to do with visual acuity. You may see wonderfully without needing glasses but have trouble focusing or moving your eyes along a line. This causes problems with reading efficiency because it leads to tiredness, slow reading, neglect, and abandonment of the task.

If visual development does not occur properly, we may encounter the symptoms below.

Visual Symptoms that May Be Related to Learning Problems in Children:

  • Getting very close to the paper or lying down on the table to see.
  • Closing or covering one eye.
  • Frequently rubbing their eyes or having red eyes.
  • Following a reading exercise with their finger.
  • Confusing letters or words.
  • Getting tired easily or being unable to maintain attention.
  • Reading slowly.
  • Blinking excessively.
  • Inverting letters or words.
  • Low reading comprehension level.
  • Dislike reading or writing.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Performance or even emotional problems upon noticing that they are not learning at the same speed as their classmates.

Behavioral optometrists are responsible for functionally and accurately evaluating these other skills that are so entwined in development and learning.

At Smartick we help children improve their reading comprehension through the word problems at the end of each session. For children who start sessions at ages 4, 5, or 6, when they still cannot read, or cannot read fluently enough, the exercises are recorded so that they can complete their sessions independently.


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Diane Ackerman
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