A decade ago school vision screenings were more comprehensive and technical than just checking students for the well known 20/20 visual acuity. Students were tested for functional vision problems like poor tracking, poor focusing, and the ability to not only see the chalkboard, but efficiently switch the focus from the chalkboard to the paper on the student’s desk. In today’s economy with budget and personnel cuts, the depth of school vision screenings has diminished. Screening the ever increasing volume of students is now the responsibility of the school health aid and a few minimally trained parent volunteers. With these restrictions it is understandable that screenings must be limited to the 20/20 visual acuity method – can the student see the board. This method can’t be discounted for it provides valuable information to the school and the parents regarding the child’s need for corrective lenses necessary for learning and living. The school screening is also a valuable resource for students who may otherwise not have the opportunity to have their visual needs met. Unfortunately, for about 25% of the student population, their visual problems will not be detected by the standard acuity testing. The eyes are the conduit to the brain, providing the information needed for learning. When this signal is disrupted, disorganized, or incomplete, so is the learning process.
What is it that those children are missing? As mentioned previously, the eyes send learning information to the brain. Clearly seeing the information is only a small portion of how the eyes send the information to the brain. Tracking skills are needed to provide the brain with a continual flow of information while the child is reading. When the eyes track poorly the information flow is disrupted and disorganized resulting in poor comprehension and speed performance. Students with tracking problems will continually experience “failed” scoring in “timed tests” because they have to reread it over and over to get all the information to the brain. Tracking is not the only problem that is missed by visual acuity testing. There are other functional vision problems that inhibit a child’s ability to learn.
Staying visually focused is another way the brain receives information from the eyes. When copying information from a board or overhead screen the pupils of the eyes must dilate to see the screen/board and then must quickly constrict when the child changes the focus to copy the notes onto paper. When this process is inefficient the child struggles to keep up and either misses the information or loses free time to complete assignments. This child often experiences headaches and fatigue early in the school day. Another focusing problem comes when reading or doing other close work. When doing close work the eyes must cross or converge to correctly focus on the book or paper. When eyes can’t stay focused for extended periods of time the child skips words or lines, loses his/her place, experiences double vision, becomes fatigued and often times gives up from the discomfort. Obviously this child will also experience continued “failure” when taking timed tests. Children with functional vision problems are often labeled ADD, learning disabled, or just lazy. These children can be helped to succeed in school.
Diagnosis of functional vision problems requires assessment by an optometrist or ophthalmologist who specializes in this area. Treatment might be reading glasses, and/or exercises done at home and/or in the office to strengthen muscles and improve function. Whether your child passes a school vision screening or not, if you feel there is something impacting their school performance, a comprehensive eye health examination is invaluable. It is important to remember that the first line of detection is the parents and the teachers who are alert to the students learning struggles.
Author: Dr. Marcia Stauter
Other vision articles by Dr. Marcia Stauter
Parkview Family Eye Center
3545 West 12th Street, Greeley CO