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How Functional Vision Problems Affect Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

Functional Vision Problems Affect Learning
Reading, writing and arithmetic.  They’re the foundation of our educational system, and the basis for what your child needs to succeed in school.  And Functional Vision Problems can affects them all.

Functional vision problems. These are vision issues that evade typical vision screeningsperformed by school, and they can have a profound effect on your child, both academically and socially.

Here is a breakdown of just how functional vision problems can impact your child’s performance in the 3Rs:

Why Your Child May Be Struggling in Reading

Functional vision problems affect reading in two significant ways:

  1. 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.  An aspiring reader will struggle to keep pace with fellow classmates as they acquire this new skill.
  2. 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.  They won’t be able to process information as quickly as their fellow students and will fall behind.

It’s important that you don’t confuse “learning to read” with “reading to learn”. 

“Reading to learn” requires comprehension, and comprehending often requires functioning visual skills.  It can be affected when the visual system is not working correctly.   For example, 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.

In both cases, 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.

Why Your Child May Be Struggling in Math (arithmetic)

If a student has difficulty seeing things 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. They can’t think things through in their head.  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 may be a poor reader primarily because math doesn’t require as much sustained visual attention as reading.

Why Your Child May Be Struggling in Writing (including spelling)

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.

There are several vision-related skills that are critical to good handwriting that may be underdeveloped in a student with vision problems.

  • Poor peripheral awareness may cause difficulty writing straight on a page.
  • 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.
  • Visual recall, the ability to create a visual image based on past visual 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.

How Do You Pinpoint a Functional Vision Problem?

Reading through these issues, you can see that there may be overlap in some areas.  Your child may have a number of different functional vision problems, and the ripple effect can be felt throughout their studies.

To pinpoint exactly what types of vision problems your child may have, consult a developmental optometrist for a functional vision test.  It’s the first step toward getting those 3Rs to come out As.

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Posted by   Greg Mischio