Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vital Connections Between Vision and Learning

Vision Therapy Center, Inc.

Teacher/Parent Vision and Learning Guide
The information in this guide was created for teachers and parents. It provides background information on the vital connections between vision and learning.

You’ll find the following information:
• Vision and Learning Overview
• What are some of the vision skills that affect learning?
• Impact on Subjects
• What does the work of someone with vision problems look like?
• Stress Points
• Take the Vision Quiz
• Vision Therapy
• Studies
• Success Stories
• Modifications for the Classroom
• The Vision Therapy Center Contact

Vision and Learning Overview

Good vision requires your eyesight, visual pathways, and brain to all work together. When they don’t, even a person with 20/20 eyesight can experience difficulty reading, writing and processing information, as 80% of all information comes to a child through their vision.

Most people think that if a person’s visual acuity is 20/20 their vision is ‘normal’ or ‘perfect’. That’s not the case.
Visual acuity is a measure of the clarity of a person’s vision and is tested by having a patient read a line of letters on an eye chart. This test does not require the same amount and types of eye movements that reading does, so it cannot be used to determine whether a child has the visual skills necessary to read.

While clear vision is important, it is only one of many visual skills required to be able to read and learn.
·         75-90% of classroom learning comes through the visual system.
·         80% of children who are reading disabled, including dyslexics, have vision problems that can be solved.
·         25% of ALL children have a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance in school.
·         95% of first grade nonreaders had significant vision problems. They had nearly 2.5 times more visual problems than first grade high achievers.
·         In one study, 70% of juvenile delinquents had a vision problem.
·         In one California funded study, recidivism (repeat offenders) reduced from 45% to 16% when wards received on-site optometric vision therapy.
·         When a group of illiterate adults were vision screened, there was a 74% failure rate.
·         School vision screenings, such as a Snellen eyechart, detect only 20-30% of vision problems in schools.
·         Only 13 percent of mothers with children younger than 2 years of age have taken their baby for a functional well-care eye exam. Yet 1 out 10 children are at risk for having an undiagnosed vision problem.


What are some of the skills that affect learning?

When reading, the eyes should aim inward at the same spot in order to fixate on print. If the eyes aim at a spot in front of or behind the print, extra energy and effort is required to maintain fixation and double or overlapping vision may occur. An example is shown to the left.

Directionality is important in understanding how similar shapes can have different meanings when they are in different orientations. To the left is an example of some letters that are commonly reversed by children with poor directionality. The letters are the exact same shape, but are called a different name depending on their orientation. This can be a difficult concept because if another object, such as a chair, is turned on its side or upside-down it is still called a chair.

Form Perception

Below is an example of an item from a visual perceptual skills test. In this particular test the child is asked to identify which form among the choices at the bottom matches the form on top. Other visual perceptual skills tests assess the child’s ability to identify a form from memory, identify which form is oriented in a different direction, identify a form that has a different size or orientation, identify a sequence of forms from memory, identify a figure hidden in ground and identify an incomplete form as if it were complete.

b d p q

Span of Recognition

Children who can read at accelerated speeds often have a good span of recognition, allowing them to recognize and process several words at one time. Children lacking this skill may only be able to see one word or letter at a time. In order to see what this would be like, try reading a sentence or paragraph while looking through a straw.


Visualization is the ability to create mental images. Children who have vision problems may also have difficulty with visualization. This skill is important for success in many school subjects including spelling and math.

Tracking (Pursuits and Saccades)

Commonly referred to as ‘tracking’, maintaining fixation on a moving target (pursuits) or accurately switching fixation between two targets (saccades) are two types of eye movements that are essential for reading and learning.

An example of this is when your eyes reach the end of a line of print and have to accurately move from the end of that line to the beginning of the next line of print. Difficulty with these eye movements can cause a child to skip words or lose their place easily when reading.

Impact on Subjects

Considering 80% of the information you process comes through your visual system, it’s not surprising that a vision problem can affect a number of different subjects. Here’s a brief overview of how vision problems can manifest in various areas.


Vision problems affect reading in two significant ways:

·         When a student is learning to read, a serious vision problem could reduce their ability to know what they are looking at and impact their ability to remember numbers and letters.

·         When a student is reading to learn and has blurry or double vision, their ability to read for long periods of time and comprehend what they are reading can be severely reduced.

The ability to read and the ability to comprehend what is being read are two different things. Comprehending what is read is a visual process, and can be affected when the visual system is not working correctly. If a student sees words on the page as blurry or double, he or she has to use extra effort to keep the words single and clear and this can negatively impact comprehension.

Students with vision problems spend the majority of their time decoding words. Instead of reading fluidly and visualizing the words and the message as a whole, they focus on each specific word. This is a struggle, making it difficult to quickly process sections of text.

As a result, students will track text with their fingers. They’ll read a slower pace and will have fluency issues. Their reading will be marred by repetitions, insertions, omissions and substitutions.

These reading problems are all too often misconstrued as laziness on the part of the student. They are not. They are simply symptomatic of a vision problem. When corrected, it’s common for students to enjoy reading and no longer avoid it.


If a student has difficulty seeing things as clear and single, they may have trouble seeing decimals and/or signs. An important skill in math is to organize what is being written and the student may have trouble lining things up and keeping their place if their visual skills are poor.

Laterality and directionality are also important concepts in math. If a student sees the orientation of numbers incorrectly, they will have difficulty completing the problem.

Students who lack visualization skills can often be found counting on their fingers or verbalizing sequences. Given enough time, they can generally compute an answer, but they tend to do poorly on timed tests. Awareness of numbers and what they mean as well as being able to visualize numbers and quantities, are critical to success in math and can be impacted if a child has a vision problem.

It should be noted that a child with vision problems may do well in math but be a poor reader, primarily because math doesn’t require as many precise eye movements as reading.


Visual recall, the ability to create a visual image based on past visual experience without currently having that experience, is a visualization skill that is critical for spelling. In spelling, it is the ability to create a mental image of a word without being able to look at the word.


Writing involves both handwriting and composition skills. It is necessary for vision to lead the hand for handwriting and this can be very difficult if the student cannot see well. In fact, often you can see in the handwriting where the student stopped looking or became fatigued. Difficulty writing straight on a page is often a result of poor peripheral awareness.

There are several vision-related skills that are critical to good handwriting that may be underdeveloped in a student with vision problems. Visualization is also important in handwriting because the student needs to remember what different words look like in order to reproduce them on the page. Spatial concepts are important in handwriting to know and plan how words will go together. Good laterality and directionality are important to differentiate similarly-shaped letters in different orientations (e.g. b, d, p, q).

Visualization is also critical for writing composition because the student needs to be able to organize and re-organize the composition in his or her head.

What does the work of someone with vision problems look like?

Take a look at some of the work samples of students with vision problems:

Unequal sized print

Words moving or letters running together

Words take off and leave the page

Double print

Reversed letters

Words squished together

Words appear as splotches or streaks

Words are shaky

Stress Points

These are areas that can cause stress for students with vision problems:

• Small print

• Sustained, near point work

• Full pages of print, with blocks of text close together

• Copying from chalkboard or SMART Board to paper on desk

• Fine-motor skills

• Flickering fluorescent bulbs

• Standardized test sheets

• Random lists of spelling words

• Timed tests

• Crossword puzzles

• Reading aloud to a group without being given a warning

• Being asked to instantly identify right and left directions

Take the Vision Quiz

The Vision Quiz is the first step toward assessing if a student has a vision problem. Write in number that best describes how often each symptom occurs:

0=Never, 1=Seldom, 2=Occasionally, 3=Frequently, 4=Always

Headaches from near work
Words run together when reading
Burning, itchy, watery eyes
Skips/repeats lines when reading
Head tilt/closes one eye when reading
Difficulty copying from chalkboard/overhead
Avoids near work/reading
Omits small words when reading
Writes uphill or downhill
Misaligns digits/columns of numbers
Reading comprehension down
Holds reading material too close
Trouble keeping attention on reading
Difficulty completing assignments on time
Always says “I can’t” before trying
Clumsy, knocks things over
Does not use his/her time well
Loses belongings/things
Forgetful/poor memory

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