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Are Learning Disabilities & Vision Problems Related?

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A child growing up with learning disabilities has singular challenges in the classroom. The classroom’s learning structure sets us all up for the jobs each will hold in the future, but it doesn’t move at the speed of the slowest learning student. It sticks to the pace of the majority.
We see many children coming through our practice, unaware that they aren’t able to see as well as their peers. A child struggling with a learning disability and a vision problem as well might notice even less.
While eye problems do not cause learning disabilities, together they’re 2 factors that can interplay in a child’s school life. Further down, we’ll look at the relationship between learning, disabilities, and vision, and hopefully shed some light on things holding school children back.

Learning Disabilities

Notable Learning Disabilities

Some are more common learning disabilities, like autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, whereas dyscalculia or dysgraphia are lesser-known. But when it comes to the classroom, these conditions generally have the same effect: information from the lesson isn’t getting through.
Learning disabilities are problems a child has when doing certain tasks. These tasks include reading, writing, math, listening, speaking or concentrating

Possible Causes for Various Learning Disabilities

While more causes are possible, common causes for cases of learning disabilities are:

  • Having family members with learning disabilities (inherited)
  • Being born prematurely
  • Experiencing physical stress before or after being born
  • Infection in the central nervous system, such as meningitis.
  • Having a severe head injury

Issues Affecting Learning

Normally when we read, the brain connects the words we see with their meanings and familiar experiences and information
Our brains take new information and compare it to old information, forming new connections between them. These new connections make up the new skills we develop in the classroom. So if there’s an issue gathering, absorbing, or processing information, the student will fall behind.

Issues with the Brain

About 15 out of 100 children have a learning disability. A learning disability has to do with a child’s neurology, about how the brain interprets the sights and sounds of the classroom.
The special needs of someone with a learning disability can best be met by ensuring they are engaged. Being engaged in learning hinges on being able to see the letters in reading and the numbers in math from a distance, so they are on the same page as everyone else. After that, the brain will process the information as much as possible.

Issues with the Eyes

In Canada, it’s estimated that 25% of school-aged children have vision problems. Consider also, that only an estimated 14% of children under the age of 6 in Canada are getting their vision cared for by an eye doctor. That means there is definitely a gap between children in the classroom who have a problem, and children who have been diagnosed with a problem.

How Vision & Learning Are Related

Visual abilities play a big role in early development, and partly due to that fact, optometrists optometrists recommend infants have their first eye exam between six and nine months of age. If a baby suffers from vision problems how they learn, and consequently how they develop will change.
Visible stimuli are key to keeping a child’s attention, keeping them engaged during the course of the lesson. If a child can’t see visuals giving them an idea of what’s going on, it’s only natural for them to mentally check out.
Vision problems can sometimes be confused with ADHD, perhaps for that reason. A child who doesn’t have a learning disability, but hasn’t been diagnosed with a vision problem can be confused for a child with ADHD, by a teacher.
Children who have vision problems share these three symptoms with children who have ADHD:

  • Fails to pay close attention and makes careless mistakes.
  • Often does not listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often has difficulty sustaining attention during tasks or play activities.

How Vision & Learning Disabilities Are Related

As mentioned, learning disabilities are not caused by eye problems. It’s more that children with learning disabilities struggle to process new information and make connections between new and already learned information.
That means getting vision therapy or corrective lenswear won’t solve problems associated with learning disabilities. But as we can know, the sensory information coming into the brain provides the information needed for building an understanding of the world around us.
That sensory information should be clear and intelligible in order to be processed as best the brain can. So correcting vision improves the information to be processed — certainly helping rather than hindering a child who bears the burden of a learning disability.
Key to clearing up that sensory information flying around the classroom is 20/20 vision, so it would aid children struggling with learning disabilities to get annual child-friendly eye exams.

Clear the Vision for the Sake of the Mind

It might be worth seeking corrective lenses sooner rather than later for classroom results. A clear view of the whiteboard will help children get a handle on letters, numbers, and sights of the world around them —  so they can better process them and improve their learning.

Written by Dr. Rod Adams

Dr. Rod Adams is a graduate of the University of Alberta and the University of California at Berkeley School of Optometry. Dr. Adams has been in private family practice since 1997. During this time, he has developed a strong interest in pediatric optometry and laser corrective surgery options.
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