Poor Vision Affects Child Development

We’ve heard it before; an undetected vision or eye health problem can affect a child’s academic performance. However, you might not have heard it can also affect a child’s behaviour and social skills. “Most parents and guardians aren’t aware that an undiagnosed vision problem goes beyond poor academic performance,” says optometrist and member of the Ontario Association of Optometrists, Dr. Rajvinder Pabla.

In fact, poor vision can lead to reduced social interaction because of the inability to see properly. A child may shy away or be excluded from playing team sports since their vision problem is affecting their hand-eye coordination. They may also avoid watching the latest 3D movie with their friends because they have reduced depth perception that can cause discomfort or headaches and can’t enjoy the movie the way their friends can.

“It’s unfortunate. They could be interacting with their peers and developing socially, but because they have an undetected vision problem they avoid certain social activities or are excluded from them,” says Dr. Pabla. Along with social interactions, an undetected vision problem can affect a child’s behaviour in the classroom. Dr. Pabla explains, a child who is hyperopic (farsighted) may have problems reading and focusing on their textbooks. If their hyperopia continues to go undiagnosed, they may try avoiding their work and in the process become disruptive out of frustration.

“Too often, some children are labelled as the ‘problem’ or ‘bad’ child when in fact their behaviour stems from an undiagnosed vision problem,” says Dr. Pabla. “Most of these kids don’t complain about their vision because they either have a hard time articulating their vision problem or think everyone sees like them.”That is why a comprehensive eye exam is critical to a child’s overall development. Eye exams conducted by an optometrist can detect, diagnose and treat eye conditions that may be the root cause of a child’s behaviour or reclusive tendencies.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends children start receiving comprehensive eye exams at 6 months, before starting kindergarten and every year thereafter. “A child’s eye health status can change yearly, so as parents and guardians, we have to make sure our children go on a yearly basis once they start school. Even if they are fine one year, with growth, their prescription can change as well as the status of their binocular vision – how the two eyes work together,” says Dr. Pabla.

An undetected vision or eye health problem may be holding your child back socially and interfering with their behaviour. An optometrist can help remove the vision-related barriers that may be hindering your child from living a full and enriched life.

Is your child really ready to learn?

The back-to-school season is a great opportunity to think about how a child sees the world. With 80 per cent of classroom learning being visual, the importance of good vision can’t be overlooked.
“School can be hard enough without adding poor vision into the mix,” said optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Guthrie. “Parents assume their child will tell them if they can’t see well, but children with poor vision don’t know what normal vision looks like. Regular comprehensive eye exams are the only way to make sure a child’s vision is where it should be.”

OHIP covers annual eye exams for children up to 19 years old, yet only 14 per cent of Canadian children under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye exam before entering their first year of school. In Ontario, one in four children has an undetected vision problem that is affecting their ability to learn.

Research shows that children with good vision go on to perform better in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities. “In addition to affecting their grades, poor vision can impact a child’s social development and hand-eye coordination in physical activities. Yearly comprehensive eye exams will detect a vision problem before it hinders a child’s academic and social success,” said Dr. Guthrie.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends that every child have their first eye exam at six months old to ensure proper eye development, again at two to three years old and every year thereafter. While notebooks and pencils are important purchases ahead of the school year, a trip to the optometrist should be at the top of the list. It’s the only way to ensure children are really ready to tackle the school year.

Seeing is Succeeding

Poor vision can seriously impact a child’s path in life. Today’s children are equipped with resources and learning materials older generations would never have fathomed such as computers and digital devices. Still, with all these tools at their disposal, some children inexplicably fall behind. The unexpected reason may be an undetected vision problem.

“Vision is more than seeing clearly; it’s the ability to comfortably see, ensuring the front and back of the eye is healthy and process visual information. This means vision problems can lead to inefficiencies, possibly affecting a child’s overall performance in life,” said Dr. Radhika Chawla, Board Member of the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO).

Like many optometrists, she believes the consequences of poor vision for a child are greater than many parents may think, making annual, comprehensive eye exams crucial for children as they learn and develop. These exams go beyond the simple vision screenings performed in school or by a physician, as they can detect subtle vision and eye health problems with a variety of tools and tests.

“Since 80 per cent of learning is visual, poor vision can cause academic issues. A child may have difficulty reading books since they frequently lose their place or have a hard time focusing on numbers and letters. This limits their ability to use the information at their disposal, making it difficult to complete their work and other classroom activities,” stated Dr. Chawla.

Children with undetected vision problems may have a hard time solving puzzles, recognizing letters and numbers and writing since their vision does not allow them to perform these visual tasks with ease. When a child cannot take advantage of the available information and resources, they may fail to learn at the rate of their peers. This may cause frustration, making them feel less capable than their classmates.

Declining academic performance is not the only area of a child’s life that can be hit hard by a vision problem. “Sometimes poor vision affects a child’s social behaviour,” warned Dr. Chawla. “Certain vision problems can result in symptoms similar to those identified with Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). When a child has trouble focusing, they may not pay close attention to details or become easily distracted, showing overlapping symptoms to ADHD.”

Poor vision can take a toll on a child’s social skills (i.e. lack of eye contact) and interactions, since they feel unable to try new things due to limited vision. It can also affect a child’s ability to participate in physical activities, and may lead to frequent falls, trips, bumps and bruises due to their lack of coordination.

“The visual system contributes to gross and fine motor skills. A child with a vision problem may find it difficult to play on the playground, perform close work accurately and even participate in sports,” explained Dr. Chawla. Signs and symptoms of a vision problem may include squinting, headaches, dizziness or nausea. They may also rub or touch their eyes excessively and have a strong reaction to light. Additionally, some children may exhibit lesser known symptoms, such as poor handwriting and mistaking the letters “p” for “q” and “b” for “d”.

Since vision impacts every aspect of a child’s life, “It’s important for parents to know the importance of annual comprehensive eye exams to identify early signs of a vision problem, since children very rarely alert their parents that they are experiencing any difficulties visually. A child won’t know they have a vision problem since they assume their vision is normal,” remarked Dr. Chawla. With one in four children having a vision problem, an eye exam may be the key to unlocking a child’s full potential.