Developmental Vision

By Susan Schocket, Career Development, West High School, Wichita KS
August 15, 2000

“I wonder why Johnny, Jimmy and Joanie always lay their heads down on their desk when they write.”

“I wonder why Chris never can copy the notes off of the overhead. He must not care about school!”

“Boy, that Susie really is struggling to read. I don’t understand why she can read big words but has a tough time with little words repeated over and over. It seems she is always losing her place.”

Ever ask yourself these questions? Ever wonder why some, otherwise intelligent, kids seem to have so much trouble with academics? These young people succeed and we can help them by taking the time to educate ourselves on this learning concern.

When Janice was going through school, she struggled with reading comprehension – a slow reader. When she went to college she found out that not all people had to “chase” the words on a page to read. She had a visual learning problem that she learned to compensate for and a wonderful mother who proofed and typed most of her papers throughout school. Had her teachers been aware of this problem, they could have helped too. Janice now has a MBA and is a top financial executive for a large corporation.

Some interesting facts about vision that all teachers should know

  • Research indicates that 1 out of 4 children and 7 out of 10 young offenders have vision problems that affect their learning ability.
  • Vision is a learned process. We are not born with our left and right sides working together. Eyes must learn to work together just as legs and arms do. This is a developmental process and continues to develop from birth on into adulthood.
  • A person can have 20/20 eyesight, and yet have a visual problem that does not allow them to comprehend what they see.
  • Most high school dropouts have a 4th grade or less reading level indicating that they were “lost” in school when it came time to “read to learn” instead of “learning to read” which they probably were not successful at doing in the first through third grades.
  • Our ability to perform tasks, our self-esteem, and our interactions with others is greatly affected by our vision. Good eyesight is only one small piece of the picture.
  • Visual problems can be hereditary in nature but the developmental process has just as much impact on being able to see and comprehend.
  • A major reason for learning concerns classified as Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Disorder may be vision problems.
  • Vision problems can be the basis of poor gross and fine motor coordination.

Look and See

Teachers need to know what most optometrists know about vision. Unfortunately, schools of education don’t include this information in their curriculum. Vision consists of much more than 20/20 eyesight (seeing an object at 20 feet). Vision allows us to obtain meaning and understanding from what we see!

Vision is a set of skills and abilities of which 20/20 eyesight is only one. Other necessary skills include two-eyed coordination, focusing (accommodation), eye movements and tracking. For example, a child may see clearly at chalkboard distance (20/20) but still may have symptoms such as blurred vision, eyestrain, headaches, or fatigue while reading. This is due to focusing or a two-eyed coordination problem. These problems often reduce a child’s attention span, comprehension, and general school performance.

This is a treatable visual dysfunction. There are many behaviors exhibited by the child with developmental vision concerns. Parents and teachers are the people who are in the best position to identify the condition. A vision screening for distance (Snelling chart) is not enough! Parents Active for Vision Education, P.A.V.E., has created a checklist for parents to detect these problems. The Optometric Extension Program Foundation, Inc, OEM, has created an Educator’s Checklist to detect the problem. (Reading the information on this page for educators will give you a better insight into vision problems thus your students, but if you just want the checklist scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.)

Talk with parents about the importance of finding a knowledgeable doctor for vision testing and a list of appropriate questions they can ask before selecting a vision care provider. It is important for students with visually related learning concerns to participate in optometric developmental therapy to be most successful in correcting these problems, but there are some things we can do as teachers to help these students be more successful in the classroom.

Inviting a professional vision therapist in to conduct an inservice is a great step in educating a school’s staff. Make sure the speaker is versed in strategies that can be utilized in the classroom.

After you read the facts, you will see there are a large number of kids in this “boat”. You will even be able to think of at least one kid specifically and say “ah, ha! Remember many of students these are regular education kids. If you read the research you will be amazed at the number of students this affects. Kids with visual concerns can’t comprehend well, don’t perform well on “traditional” classroom assignments, and many become discipline problems since they can do that well. The student who has poor organization, incomplete assignments, the inability to stay on task and lack of attention to assignments may very well be a child with poor visual skills.

So what can teachers do?

Thank you to Jill Karst, Development Clinic, for providing information gleaned from her 30+ years in working with students and vision problems. Her expertise in academics and vision therapy provides great insight into learning problems and how teachers can play a role in impacting the academic achievement of these students. She is available for staff inservice activities for your school. You may reach her at: Developmental Clinic, P.O. Box 47146, Wichita, Kansas 67201, (316) 269-3541.

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