When it comes to reading, having 20/20 vision isn’t really the issue. The big E on the eye chart only tells you if your child can see at a distance. Focusing up close and having the ability to read takes a different set of visual skills that are often not tested at school.
The ability to read is a combination of the ability to see what is and the ability to understand what you see. These visual skills are important for reading and learning:
Visual acuity – This is the ability to see clearly. Children need to be able to see at a distance to read what is on the chalk board, white board, or smart board at the front of the classroom. They also need to see at a medium distance to read a computer screen and up close to read a book or worksheet.
Focusing – When your child looks from one object to another, whether up close or at a distance, the eyes should automatically adjust to keep the object in focus. But this is only part of the skill needed for learning. Once the eyes bring an object into focus, they need to be able to hold that focus for as long as needed. Reading a book or working on the computer can require lengthy focusing at one distance.
Tracking – This is the ability to follow a target object. It may mean following a ball flying through the air, or following a line of type that is printed across a page.
Eye teaming – People and some animals have binocular vision. This means our eyes are located on the front of the head (rather than on the sides like some birds). When both eyes work together, they send slightly different images to the brain that are interpreted as 3 dimension vision. This is what gives us our ability to see depth, such as seeing how high a step is so we don’t trip.
In reading, the eyes need to work together as a team to first focus on the same place on the page, and then to move across the page together. This allows the brain to see one image of the words in print, rather than two versions that won’t quite match up. This is a skill that is learned as a child’s brain and vision develop.
Eye-hand coordination – This ability allows us to take what we see and direct our hands to move accordingly. When playing ball, it is the ability to recognize where the ball is going to be so we can reach out and catch it. In school, eye-hand coordination helps a child copy on paper what is printed up on a screen or white board.
Visual perception – This is the ability of the brain to take the images received from the eyes and figure out what they mean. It includes letter and word recognition and the ability to understand and remember what is read. Some children have a difficult time recognizing shapes, including the shapes of letters. Other children recognize one word at a time but have a difficult time see two or more words at the same time, which can greatly slow the process of reading.
Children who have difficulty seeing usually don’t realize that anything is wrong. Because they have always seen the world a certain way, they think everyone sees that way. This means they are not likely to complain about problems seeing or to understand why they have to work harder than other children in their class.
Problems with vision can cause symptoms that appear similar to attention deficit disorder or a learning disability. Children who are struggling to see may also find it hard to concentrate and may seem to have short attention spans because they can’t see what they need to see. If your child has any difficulty reading or learning, schedule a visit to the eye doctor to see if vision treatment can help clear up the learning problems.