I recently attended a couple of great workshops on visual perception, processing and vision therapy (aka vision rehabilitation). With a national increase in diagnoses like Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, therapists are looking closely at the role that vision plays in these children's lives. Sure enough, there is a significant connection between visual processing systems and these diagnoses (too much to share without oversimplifying it and overwhelming you!) but I was surprised to learn that only 5 -14% of ALL children receive an eye examination before they enter Kindergarten!
Why is this significant? Take a look at the demands that your Kindergartner experiences every day, and now imagine that they can't see the blackboard? Can't track words across the page? Can't focus on too many visual details on their worksheet? How are they learning new information when their eyes are working so hard just to focus on what's in front of them? I'm guilty of relying on the vision screening at my pediatrician's office...until I learned that those screenings miss one-third of vision problems. So, off to the eye doctor we went and sure-enough, we ended up with glasses for my six and a half-year-old!
How do you know if vision is an issue for your child? Not just "Can they see clearly?" but visual processing? Think of it this way: Vision is a process. You take in information through your eyes and your brain processes the information to make sense of it all! Input (information) ----> Output (read, write, catch a ball).
Seems simple enough, right? Not so much... there is definitely more than meets the eye when looking at vision!
My top-5 takeaways for parents:
1. The first test of vision should happen by 6 months in your doctor's office. After that, a comprehensive eye examination should happen at 3 years old! (earlier if you have a family history or other relevant medical condition) Just like we monitor developmental motor milestones, there are visual motor milestones too! Early intervention is key if visual skills are not developing.
2.There is more to vision than "my child can see" - it's actually a three-part question!
Ocular Health & Refractive Error - Are all parts of the eye (anatomy) working as they should?
Visual Efficiency Skills/Functional Vision - Are the eyes working together as muscles?
oculomotor skills (tracking), accommodation (focusing), and binocularity (eye teaming/coordination)
Visual Perceptual & Processing Skills - How is the visual information being processed?
visual analysis skills, visual spatial skills, visual integration skills
3. There are 3 types of doctors who address vision in some capacity: Optometrist, Ophlamologist, and Developmental (or Behavioral) Optometrist. They all assess different aspects of vision so know what they are looking at before you make your appointment!
4. As a therapist, I use terms like bilateral integration and laterality. What happens at the whole-body level can also happen with the eyes. After all, you need to coordinate your eyes to work together just like you would use your two arms or two legs together! As a parent, I question whether my daughter's eyes are working in smooth coordination if the rest of her body is clumsy and uncoordinated! (the answer is: likely not).
5. If you want more information or want to find a Developmental Optometrist near you, go to www.covd.org
I haven't even gotten to the fascinating therapy options for people with vision issues! That's a whole other blog post and it's amazing what technologies and therapies are available!