The relationship between vision and learning

Thursday, 24 August 2017 by Callan Smith-Sheerin

With the new school year just around the corner, we want to remind how important it is for kids to have an eye test regularly. Eyesight and learning are closely related and clear vision is important in ensuring your child enjoys and gets the most out of school.

interactive-learning 80% of school learning traditionally comes from visual presentation, so poor eyesight can have a big impact on how your child processes information. Sight is a key sense in the classroom and is crucial in spelling, writing, reading and using a board. At school, you need to be able to see things quickly and understand visual information that can be a bit of a distance away.

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Refractive errors

Refractive errors are a group of eye conditions that effect the way that the eye can bend light, with the most common being short-sightedness (myopia) and long-sightedness (hyperopia). Astigmatism is also considered a refractive error and is caused by your eye being a different shape to a perfect sphere.

Sometimes refractive errors can be caused by spherical aberrations. These are imperfections in the shape of the eye that we all have but some more significant cases can impact the quality of eyesight. These conditions can be detected with an eye test and are simple to treat with contact lenses or glasses.

Problems with eye functionality

These problems are to do with the way the eye works. Even if your child does have 20/20 sight, this is no guarantee that their eye functions perfectly. They arise, not because of the shape of the eye, but due to neurological control.

3 key functions that can be affected are:

  • Binocularity: The ability to focus on an object with both eyes to create one, clear stereoscopic image.
  • Fine eye movements: The small movements made by the eye to assist reading.
  • Accommodation: How the eye changes it’s optical power to focus on an object as it changes distance.
These problems can all cause blurred vision, eye strain from overcompensation and headaches.


Perceptual vision problems

Whereas the last group of problems involved both your eyes and brain, this group depends purely on the brain. If your child has a perceptual vision problem, they may struggle with understanding exactly what it is they’re seeing. Typical classroom occurrences such as fractions and long words could be hard for them to comprehend, judge their meaning and relate it to the task they’ve been set.

Detecting a problem with your child’s vision

You won’t find out if your child has a perceptual vision problem just from going to an eye test, but it should still be your first port of call. What it might show is that they don’t have a refractive error and need to be tested for other things. They can also show colour blindness, which can also lead to confusion and difficulty at school when it is undetected.

School counsellors or psychologists may be able to help find an optometrist that specialises in children’s vision. They should then be able to help and suggest courses for treating the problem.

eye test

To tell whether your child has difficulty with their vision, there are some clear behavioural signs for you and their teacher to pick up on. They may avoid schoolwork that requires being close to the source or persevere with tasks while clearly not being able to understand it. Listen out for them complaining about discomfort or clearly showing trouble staying focused.

Treating vision problems

Treatment can be as simple as corrective lenses, either glasses or contacts, or can involve therapy. The most important thing to remember is to reassure your child and make sure they know that it isn’t anything to do with intelligence. Support and understanding alongside visual therapy is key to keeping them motivated and enjoying school.

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