Students are evaluated on learning skills and work habits, self regulation, collaboration, responsibility, organization, independent work and initiative in addition to academics. Optometrists recognize that vision skills contribute to the development of these learning tools. In fact, more than 80% of learning is done through the eyes. Therefore, assessment of a child's individual learning strategies can reveal signs of vision problems that influence his/her learning potential and engagement in school.
"Children younger than 12 years of age often do not have the awareness or communication skills to recognize that they have a vision problem," says Dr Catherine Chiarelli, a Toronto-area optometrist. "Students may have to work extra hard to overcome vision problems for periods of time but eventually may become distracted or give up on a task as the eyes become tired or strained. This might translate into a child seeming unwilling to work well independently or having poor work habits."
Observation of some specific features of a child's learning style may reveal potential vision problems. These include:
- frequently losing place or skipping words when reading
- difficulty printing or colouring between lines, irregular spacing
- between letters
- avoiding close work, becoming easily frustrated with persistent near
- vision tasks
- difficulty concentrating, being easily distracted during focused
- working more slowly than peers
- not using visual materials to full potential
- feeling less capable than peers, being less motivated to do school
- displaying disruptive behaviour to avoid classroom work
- demonstrating reduced co-operation and class participation
Ontario schools now ask students to participate in interviews to review their accomplishments and identify areas for improvement. Parents and educators can help children who are experiencing difficulties by raising awareness of the signs and symptoms vision problems, both by asking children specific questions about vision and by observing their visual behaviours at school and at home.
One in six children has a vision problem significant enough to impair his/her ability to learn. Common visual conditions in school-aged children include refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism) which causes blurred vision, and eye co-ordination deficiency causing visual discomfort, headaches, double vision, reduced tracking and eye-hand co-ordination and/or headaches.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends annual eye examinations for school-aged children. Children's eye examinations are covered by OHIP once per year.