One of the true benefits for homeschooling is the fact that it allows children to learn at their own pace. However, this can be a problem if a child has an undetected functional vision problem, and their progress is impeded unbeknownst to the parents.
Individualized learning is one of the main attractions for homeschooling families, regardless of whether your child is exceptionally bright or struggles in school. Consider two statistics from this Dreambox Learning’s infographic on how personalized learning can benefit students:
- 93% of education professionals agree that students would benefit from personalized pacing.
- 66% of students measure their academic success by the achievement of their own personal learning goals, outstripping parental pride (55%) or school awards and honors (45%).
Ultimately, everyone wants to learn at their own pace. But in the case of Margaret and her son RJ, age 12, individualized learning was hiding a functional vision problem.
A Real Headache or an Excuse to Avoid School?
Margaret had been homeschooling RJ for seven years. Like every child (and adult!), RJ would sometimes drag his feet when it came to doing his homework. He complained to Margaret about having headaches.
“I didn’t take him too seriously, because I thought it might be an excuse to get out of doing the work,” she said. Margaret also noticed that RJ was clumsy, often knocking things over. She attributed this to a growth spurt.
Both of RJ’s behaviors are common among children, as were Margaret’s explanation of the causes. But they were also symptomatic of a condition that often is undetected among parents, educators and physicians: A functional vision problem.
What is a Functional Vision Problem, and How Can it Affect Learning?
Functional vision is how your entire visual system -- the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways -- work together to help you interact with your environment. Functional vision includes the following visual skill areas:
Eye teaming - Aligning your eyes to focus on the same point on an object, creating a single image that results in depth perception.
Eye focusing - Seeing an object clearly and shifting focus between objects at different distances.
Eye movements - Maintaining fixation on a moving object through space, moving fixation from one object to another, or sustaining fixation on a non-moving object.
A functional vision problem can affect a child’s ability to learn in many ways. Some typical problems we see include:
- Following a line of text on a page is extremely difficult, because your eyes can’t work together to follow the words.
- Processing the meaning of the writing is difficult because a child is so focused on the act of reading itself.
- Fatigue and headaches can result from straining a visual system that isn’t working well together, and it can take extended periods of time to complete homework.
- Struggling with all subjects. Here is a breakdown of how a functional vision problem affects math, reading, spelling, and writing.
This was the case with RJ. And unfortunately, because he was learning at his own pace, Margaret really didn’t know there was a problem.
A Flexible Schedule Masks a Functional Vision Problem
One of the great joys of homeschooling is that your schedule has incredible flexibility. RJ and Margaret do many things during the school day. They would do sit-down bookwork for an hour, then get up. They took frequent breaks during the day to accommodate RJ.
They were participating in homeschooling co-ops with other families, which involved a lot of hands-on learning. They would also do activities such as physical education and archery -- all things ideal for active boys and girls.
However, by not being in a more confined desk setting, the functional vision problem that RJ was suffering from was not exposed. They would engage in co-ops and other activities, and then “plug along with schoolwork.”
A Fortuitous Visit to a Family Practice Optometrist
Margaret took RJ for a regular eye exam, and told the doctor about RJ’s headaches. He also blinked a lot when tired; his reading would get blurred, and he lost his place when reading to himself and aloud.
Margaret also mentioned the frequent stops, explaining that her son was learning at his own pace. “He said it wasn’t his ‘own pace.’ He told me that RJ had a vision problem,” Margaret said.
The family practice optometrist explained that functional vision problems are specialized, and require testing and treatment from a developmental optometrist. He recommended Dr. Kellye Knueppel of The Vision Therapy Center.
At The Vision Therapy Center, RJ was tested and diagnosed with Convergence Insufficiency. He has completed 29 weeks of vision therapy, which is a series of activities and exercises designed to improve visual skills.
The therapy is paying off. Margaret has noticed a marked change in her son.
Less Resistance + New Schedule = Happier Learner
While RJ is still undergoing vision therapy, he no longer complains about headaches. He is also more willing to do his homework. He and his vision therapist are working on his ability to read out loud, which he still struggles with because of his vision problem.
Margaret has adapted their learning schedule, based on the advice of The Vision Therapy Center. He now takes more frequent breaks (every 10 minutes), and goes outside often.
Margaret makes sure he steers clear of video games (we recommend steering clear of video games on a small screen, such as a smartphone, computer or tablet), which could exacerbate his condition.
Here is a complete list of ways you (and your teacher if your child isn’t homeschooled) can adapt your child’s learning environment to reduce visual stress.
What To Do if You Suspect a Functional Vision Problem?
As we mentioned before, you want to create an individualized learning program that allows your child to learn at his or her own pace. But to ensure they’re not being hindered by a vision problem, follow these three steps.
- Watch out for telltale symptoms of a functional vision problem. RJ’s primary symptom was headaches. Other symptoms can include eye fatigue and discomfort, poor reading comprehension, an inability to focus, and even behavior problems. Here is a complete list of typical symptoms.
- If you suspect a functional vision problem, take the Vision Quiz. The Vision Quiz provides a score-based evaluation of the persistence of symptoms and the need for testing.
- If testing is required, see a developmental optometrist for a functional vision exam. It’s important that you are evaluated by a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision problems. Here is what a Functional Vision Test should include.
If you’re a homeschooling parent, we also encourage you to share Margaret and RJ’s story with your fellow homeschoolers. Please share this on your Facebook page or email it to friends to help generate awareness of functional vision problems.
Besides our website, please also visit the College of Optometrists in Vision Development for more information on functional vision problems and vision therapy.