The parents of children struggling in school have got it tough. We can help them by clearly communicating the potential issues that might be facing their children -- especially functional vision problems.
It’s incredibly stressful and heartbreaking to watch your child struggle academically. What’s even more difficult is when educators and medical practitioners are at a loss for why your child is struggling. This often occurs when children have functional vision problems.
Most people understand that eyesight and vision affect academic performance, but they may not be aware of the type of vision issues that often go undetected. In this post, we’ll attempt to clarify the three functional visual skills that can impact learning.
Why Don’t More People Know About Functional Vision Problems?
Most parents are familiar with typical eyesight screenings that take place in schools. They are aware of the Snellen eye chart, which tests a child’s ability to see objects clearly at a set distance.
But functional vision is different. It’s an active process. It’s how you see an object in space, and how your entire visual system -- the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways -- works together to help you interact with your environment.
It’s not always an easy concept to grasp, and one that can be a bit tricky to explain.
Functional Vision: Let’s Keep It Simple
Communicating the cause of functional vision problems is the responsibility of those of us who treat them. However, these are complicated problems, and it’s easy for us to lapse into our medical terminology when we’re discussing functional vision with fellow developmental optometrists.
However, if we’re reaching out to parents, educators and other medical practitioners, we need a different tactic.
If we can explain functional vision problems in a clear, concise way, then it will be easier for people to get their arms around what exactly could be causing their children to experience such significant struggles in school. So let’s break functional vision down into three simple visual skills.
Eye Movements, Eye Focusing and Eye Teaming
Functional vision guides your ability to interact with the world around you, and it’s dynamic - it can change to meet your demands. There are three main components of functional vision:
Eye Focusing - This encompasses your ability to see an object clearly and your ability to shift focus between objects at different distances.
A child may have difficulty keeping reading material in focus and may experience intermittent or constant blur. Or the child may be able to see the text in a book clearly but have difficulty shifting focus from the book to board and back.
Eye Teaming - This includes your eyes’ ability to both focus at the same point. To see an object in 3D, your eyes send two separate images to your brain. The brain then combines the images into a single, 3D image.
If the two eyes are not both pointed at the same point, the brain won’t be able to combine the images. When this happens, a person will either experience double vision or a loss of depth perception as the brain suppresses, or ignores, one of the images to avoid double vision.
Eye Movements - This includes your eyes’ ability to keep fixation on a moving object through space and to move fixation from one object to another.
Following a fly ball into your glove and moving your eyes across this line of text both require accurate and efficient eye movements.
Visual Skills Appraisal: It Takes More Than an Eye Chart
All optometrists can test for functional vision problems to determine if a referral to a developmental optometrist is necessary for further testing and treatment recommendations. Developmental optometrists conduct testing beyond the Snellen eye chart, with tests specific to the three visual skills.
We can simplify the functional vision concepts, but the testing becomes in-depth and nuanced -- and it should. Your visual system is incredibly complicated. The testing will be as well.
If a functional vision problem is detected, a developmental optometrist uses optometric vision therapy -- a kind of visual skills training that involves activities and exercises to improve functional vision.
Building Awareness of the Three Functional Vision Skills
Our goal is to help people understand what functional vision problems are and how vision therapy can help. Let’s break it down like this:
Remember: No matter who you are, functional vision problems affect what you do. And no matter what age you are, optometric vision therapy can help!