Vision: 20/20 Is Not Enough!

Now is an excellent time to have your child's vision checked. Don't be too quick to say, "My child's vision is fine: 20/20!" In many cases that is not enough.

The Snellen chart, the instrument most frequently used to test eyesight, often gives people a false sense of security about their vision. It measures only acuity -- and that at a distance of 20 feet. How much does your child read at that distance?

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that about 25 percent of children enter school with vision problems that can impede their school progress. Almost 50 percent of children with learning difficulties have vision problems, and up to 94 percent of children with reading problems have reduced visual skills.

Why does the Snellen chart leave some of these problems undetected? Vision involves much more than the sharpness of an image. It involves focusing -- and refocusing as attention shifts between far and near (as when copying from the board). It involves binocularity, the two eyes working together to capture accurate pictures of our world and of the printed page. Vision also involves perception, the brain's interpretation of the images taken in by the eyes.

Many people believe that vision should be checked by an ophthalmologist, the person with the highest credentials. While it is true that an ophthalmologist is an M.D., he or she has spent about the same amount of time studying the anatomy, functions, and diseases of the eye as an optometrist has spent studying vision alone. To check my child's vision I would seek an optometrist, specifically a "developmental" or "behavioral" optometrist. Not only will the vision exam be more thorough, but the developmental optometrist may prescribe a course of "vision therapy" to remedy problems.

Often we take vision for granted and do not think of it as a learned behavior. Because it is learned, however, through practice we can improve it. Experts speculate that the frequency of vision problems may be increasing because with television, video games, and computers, children today do not use their eyes in as many different ways as children did formerly; overall the vision of children entering school is less developed than it was a few decades ago.

What symptoms might indicate a vision problem? Any time a bright person struggles with reading, further investigation is warranted. Consider these specific questions in relation to yourself as well as in relation to your children or students. Answering yes to even a few of the questions justifies further examination. Do not discount a "yes" even if it is limited to special circumstances, such as fatigue.

Do you (or does the child) . . .

? hold reading material extremely close or far away?

? have poor posture or an unusual head tilt while doing close work?

? squint the eyes or open them very wide?

? cover one eye?

? frequently blink or rub the eyes?

? suffer from headaches, eyestrain, or fatigue?

? require excessive time to complete schoolwork or other near tasks?

? lose a place often when copying?

? skip words or lines when reading?

? report that words on a page blur or move?

? have poor comprehension of material read?

? run words together when writing?

? have poor hand-eye coordination?

I have first-hand experience with vision problems. I will be eternally grateful to Jane Porchey, my younger son's kindergarten teacher, for identifying his vision problem in October. She noticed that although he could count, he kept getting the wrong answer when counting dots in a square. Working with him individually and having him point to the dots as he counted them, she discovered that for him the dots moved. It is not unusual for children with vision problems to have words and letters swim on the page, appearing and disappearing, doing flip-flops. Imagine trying to read under these circumstances! Even if you could manage to decode the words, you would have very little reserve attention to devote to comprehension.

Life can be very frustrating for people with vision problems. The world as a whole is likely to be fluid and chaotic for them. School in particular is likely to become a source of failure. It has been found that 70 percent of juvenile delinquents have vision problems that interfere with their ability to achieve. In one study, however, the rate of recidivism dropped from 45 percent to 16 percent when offenders received on-site vision therapy.

People with vision problems usually do not realize that they have them; they have no reason to think that their view of the world is different from everyone else's.

My son's story has a happy ending. After a few weeks of vision therapy, his eyes began working together better. Letters and numbers were less mobile. He was able to corral his writing into primary triple-rule. By spring his penmanship looked like the handwriting chart. His behavior improved, too. The frustration he had experienced in school -- and in the world in general -- had often made him sad, contrary, and belligerent. Once he discovered order in his world, he became cheerful, confident, generous.

Two self-portraits -- both made in kindergarten -- show how John changed as a result of vision therapy. The first, made in September, shows the most forlorn-looking child I have ever seen. I did not even recognize him as the child I had lived with for six years. The crayon lines are rather faintly drawn. One eye is about an inch lower than the other; he has no nose or mouth. Stringlike arms issue from his sides, the right arm about three times longer than the left. His right arm sprouts three fingers; his left arm, five, the shortest of which is longer than the arm itself. Although a patch of magenta represents his shorts, he has no legs or feet.

The second self-portrait, done in May, includes me. The lines of the drawing are firm. We both have noses, U-shaped smiles, and eyes that are directly across from each other. We both have legs and feet. We are, in fact, nearly identical as we stand with our arms around each other.

Preschoolers -- even infants -- can benefit from examination by a developmental optometrist. If a problem is identified very early, correction might be possible before the problem has a chance to cause difficulty in school. Adults, too, can benefit from vision therapy.

I urge you to have your children's vision evaluated by a developmental optometrist as soon as possible, particularly if your children are having learning difficulties or if vision problems run in your family. Such an evaluation can only work for good. If a problem is discovered, you can begin working to correct it. If no problem is identified, you will have ruled out one possible cause of learning difficulties. That, too, is worthwhile.

For additional information about symptoms, therapy, and parent support groups, visit this site sponsored by Parents Active for Vision Education (P.A.V.E.), a national non-profit organization: http://www.pavevision.org/

A parent and former teacher, Fran Hamilton is the author of Hands-On English, now in its second edition. Hands-On English gives quick access to English fundamentals and makes grammar visual by using icons to represent parts of speech. The book is for anyone 9 years or older, including adults. Fran also publishes companion products to Hands-On English and free e-mail newsletters: LinguaPhile, published monthly, is for people who teach and/or enjoy English; Acu-Write, published weekly, addresses common errors in English. For more information, visit http://www.GrammarAndMore.com.

In The News:

Allens puts parenting above profit in leave policy  The Australian Financial Review
How Children Evolved to Whine  The New York Times
Parenting on the spectrum  KFDX - Texomashomepage.com
Co-parenting help needed  The Daily Herald
Open-access parenting programme shows promise  University of Cape Town News

Types of Schools for Troubled Teens

It can be difficult on all family members to have... Read More

Parental Involvement in Learning

Whether children attend public or private schools, they benefit when... Read More

Stop, Look, Listen! Steps to Better Parenting Communication

As a parent is seems that the majority of your... Read More

I Cant Sleep Without You

When my firstborn arrived into this serene and peaceful household,... Read More

Go Ahead - Make Dads Day

Throughout the year, many days of celebration are tucked capriciously... Read More

So, My Child Has Been Recommended for Testing - What Do I Do Now?

You've just received a call from your child's teacher. As... Read More

Secrets from the Classroom: Avoiding Summer Learning Loss

In June, elementary school children across North America cheered as... Read More

Busy Moms, Dont Forget to Take Time Out for You!

As mothers, we play so many different roles and most... Read More

Puberty - Get Ready to Play the Puberty Game

Puberty can be a difficult time for children. Not quite... Read More

Caretaking Parents, Entitled Kids

Demanding children ? children who have entitlement issues ? seem... Read More

Parenting Your Teenager: 6 Things to Stop Doing Right Away

1. STOP focusing on what you are going to make... Read More

Toilet Terrors And Other Potty Training Fears

Potty training fears, often called toilet terrors, are common among... Read More

5 Tips For Talking To Your Children About What They See In The News

Mommy (Daddy), Why do those people want to hurt everyone?Last... Read More

Homeschooling ? Can I Do It?

Many parents would like to homeschool their children but are... Read More

God Dont Like Rich People

I will never forget the day that my daughter's sixth... Read More

Labeling is Disabling: Achieving Congruent Communication

A small town, somewhere in the world, was managed by... Read More

ADHD: Dialogue with a Non-Believer, Part Four

Dear Sir, It was with some interest that I read... Read More

Poker Parenting: 4 Ways Poker Skills Produce Parenting Thrills

Even as a busy parent, I'm sure you've seen a... Read More

Managing Your Stepfamily

If you are a member of a stepfamily, you know... Read More

Are You Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child?

Although many parents are concerned with our children's intelligence quotient... Read More

My Sweet Little Valentine

Valentine day has always been a special day in my... Read More

Building Your Childs Self-Esteem

According to researchers, most children enter school with a good... Read More

Parenting Problem? 5 Simple Things That Will Help

What is a parenting problem?Parenting is a tough job, we... Read More

Honey I Can?t Afford The Kids

Sex has a lot to answer for ? babies usually... Read More

Over-Indulgence And Over-Attentiveness - Two Dangers Parents Must Avoid!

We're all familiar with the over-indulgent parent. But there's another... Read More