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Published on February 04, 2020

boy with glasses covering eye

Vision Conditions Can Hold Learners Back

Our five senses work together to help us gain knowledge.

But sometimes conditions affecting vision can get in the way and slow down the process, especially with children in grade school.

“Many learning problems stem from cognitive or neurological issues. However, certain eye conditions can also be responsible,” said Avera Medical Group Eye Care Optometrist Paul Draayer, OD. “Sometimes the problem is simply a vision issue, and that’s why it’s important to first rule out refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.”

Taking First Steps

The way we use our sight is known as functional vision. As the brain processes visual information that the eyes gather, learning begins. That’s why deficits of functional vision, which take the form of blurred or double vision, eye strain or headaches, are important to identify.

“A large part of functional vision is the interaction between accommodation and vergence. Accommodation is the ability to focus or change the power within the eyes to better see closer targets,” said Draayer. “Vergence is the ability to move the positioning of both eyes either inward or outward to target an object. In people with high-functioning vision, they work together seamlessly.”

As these actions occur, they allow us to position our eyes on a target with the appropriate power, so we see it clearly and as a single image, Draayer added. Depth perception – or stereopsis – allows us to see in three dimensions, and happens when the image from the right and left eyes are fused.

“These functions are often taken for granted,” he said. “But when there is a deficiency or even an excess, people can have problems.”

Convergence is when you move the position of the eyes inward on a near target. Closely related is divergence. That’s when you move your eyes outward toward distant targets. Among vision problems that affect learning, convergence insufficiency (CI) is common.

“Since CI affects reading, it often can slow a student down,” Draayer said. “Without a thorough eye exam, this problem can go unnoticed or lead to mom and dad thinking that something else is wrong.”

Symptoms of convergence insufficiency may include blurred or double vision, eyestrain, headaches and sometimes even motion sickness. Most patients (and their parents) don’t realize there are problems or what may cause the issue. That’s because kids facing it find ways to compensate, such as avoiding “near tasks” like reading.

Additional Conditions

While it shares some of the same symptoms, accommodative insufficiency (AI) creates the need for a different treatment.

“Treatment for CI may consist of adding prism to the patient’s prescription glasses. This can relieve some of the vergence demand. Patients also can do eye exercises to strengthen the muscles that control convergence,” said Draayer. “On the other hand, accommodative insufficiency is treated by changing the lens power for the patient’s glasses. It’s often easier to correct.”

While CI and AI are common vision conditions that affect learning, there are other cases related to eye turns that may affect kids in school. Helping all kids takes family, teachers and vision professionals. Educators have good awareness of vision and learning, but parents may not know why their children are having problems.

“Many don’t even know their children are having vision problems until they fail a screening,” Draayer said. “While vision screenings are great, they don’t test vergence or accommodation. So many problems still can go undetected.”

The best and easiest way to eliminate many learning problems is to have an annual eye exam.

“Every school-aged child needs comprehensive annual eye examinations with an eye-care specialist that tests functional vision and refractive errors,” said Draayer. “If a problem is discovered, the patient can get the appropriate treatment before they fall too far behind.”

This is the first of two blogs on learning and vision. 

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