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The Role of Vision in Learning

Dr. Susan Autry, Academic Supervisor

Multisensory teaching and learning are at the heart of the Oakwood philosophy. Of the multiple senses that we use to help our students learn – and learn how they learn best – vision is a crucial component. Vision is more than acuity – a person can have 20/20 eyesight and still have difficulty “seeing”.

Vision involves perception. Many students with dyslexia and learning disabilities are challenged to read analog clocks, for example. To understand the relationship of the hands on an analog clock, a person must perceive the distance between the hands and how this relates to the numbers. Visual relationships impact students’ perception of letters on a page – a “b” can look like a “p” or “q” – and forming these letters in 2-dimensional space (i.e., when writing), is quite a challenge for students with dyslexia.

Vision also involves how the eyes work together. If the brain is receiving 2 different views from the eyes, it may, over time turn one of the eyes “off” – ignoring the input from one eye and focusing on the input from the other eye. A developmental or behavioral optometrist would look for these signs in an examination. This professional would look for eye teaming – how the eyes are working together. Are the eyes able to converge – look at the same spot at the same time? Do the eyes accommodate when looking from close work to distance and then back again? Can the eyes track print on a page in a fluent manner – without skipping words or lines or missing parts of the text?

Of course, while vision is crucial in reading, we know that dyslexia and learning disabilities are not caused by vision issues. However, vision issues that are left untreated make the act of reading and other visual tasks much more difficult. When people are tired, it is much more difficult for their eyes to focus on the page and read. If their eyes are not working together well, all visual tasks require more effort.

To test how the eyes are working together, an examination by a developmental or behavioral optometrist is recommended. Most students have their eyes “checked” by a pediatrician, often by standing in a hallway and reading an “E” chart or letters on a chart. This test checks only basic distance acuity. A more thorough examination would include tests of reading vision as well as other eye-hand coordination tasks to see how the eyes are working together for both distance and close work.

If you think that your child might benefit from an examination by a developmental or behavioral optometrist, please contact us. We have worked with several of these professionals in the area and have a list of recommendations.

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