Kids Vision or Learning Issue?

Pediatric orthoptist Mary DeYoung-Smith explains how to tell the difference in your child.

Often one of the first stops for kids struggling in the classroom or with school work is to the eye doctor for an exam. This is a logical and necessary first step, maintains certified orthoptist and ophthalmic medical technologist Mary DeYoung-Smith of Children’s Eye Care.

“A child’s teacher may rightfully refer parents to their child’s pediatrician or to a pediatric ophthalmologist before other steps are taken to make sure any road blocks to vision, and thereby classroom learning, are addressed,” she explains.

Some common behaviors of concern that would warrant an eye exam include a child maintaining an abnormal head posture or tilt while reading, closing or covering an eye while reading or writing, squinting at faraway objects, complaining of blurred or double vision, headaches or frequent blinking and eye rubbing.

If a vision problem is ruled out, however, DeYoung-Smith advises that parents work with their child’s classroom teachers and education specialists to discuss a possible learning disability.

“A child may have a vision abnormality and a learning disability, but the former does not cause the latter,” she stresses. “Vision issues do not affect a child’s ability to process information and to learn. However, a vision issue can compound a learning issue.”

DeYoung-Smith says that parents may be told by a teacher or school administrator that he or she suspects their child may have a visual processing disorder.

“This sounds like it must be related to vision,” DeYoung-Smith says. “But a visual processing disorder actually has to do with the decoding of information in the brain after it has been transmitted from the eye.”

If a vision processing disorder is indeed determined to be at play, DeYoung-Smith says parents need to work with education specialists available through their child’s school or school district.

“If the child has an issue with his or her vision and a diagnosed learning disability, it is a coincidence not an accompaniment,” she says. “Learning is a higher cortical function than vision.”

This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.

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