Learning-related vision problems are not always immediately evident in a classroom setting. Sometimes the first signs that your child could have a vision problem become noticeable far from a school environment.
On your next family road trip or as you travel across town, your child may experience an often-overlooked tell-tale sign of a functional vision deficiency — visually-induced motion sickness.
Symptoms of visually-induced motion sickness include headaches, nausea, dizziness, eye strain, and photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light). These signs may become more readily recognizable when a child is trying to read in a moving vehicle. Your child may complain of these symptoms on family road trips, so pay attention.
When scenery moves by fast, a conflict occurs between central vision and peripheral vision and balance. What’s happening is the child’s brain receives information that conflicts with his senses. We all do; but if he has an associated vision problem, he could be particularly motion sensitive. The problem is neurological, but treatable. It could be Neuro-Ocular Vestibular Dysfunction (NOVD) or See-Sick Syndrome.
The vestibular system in our brains serves to create balance and calm from the stimuli we take in. It integrates information received from the visual system with information received from what we hear and touch and from our muscle movement and awareness.
A normal functioning system integrates a lot of information quickly and without extra conscious concentrated effort. However, an underlying visual system problem makes the vestibular system’s job more challenging; so if your child already struggles with visual processing, focusing (accomodative dysfunction), eye tracking (ocularmotor dysfunction), or eye teaming (binocular dysfunction), their symptoms may become exacerbated by added or conflicting stimulation.
In other words, if your child is already struggling to focus his eyes, get his eyes to work together as a team or move smoothly across the page, or to process visual information, the problem might not be evident in a typical classroom setting. But if a peripheral component is added to compete with his attention, such as scenery whirring by on your family road trip when he’s trying to read a comic book, his system will be strained. Information will not be integrated efficiently enough and visually-induced motion sickness will occur.
Simply putting down the book while riding in the car isn’t the answer, because you may be ignoring a possible underlying vision problem. In cases of visually-induced motion sickness, vision therapy can relieve symptoms and decrease instances of motion sickness. And, perhaps more importantly, vision therapy can significantly improve functional vision problems that interfere with learning. If your child was struggling in the classroom, but not enough to cause concern yet, tasks that were challenging will become easier and performance will improve.
So if your child complains of motion sickness while trying to read in the car, train, or airplane, or even while watching action-packed movies, be sure to schedule a functional vision exam with a developmental optometrist right away.