Learning-related vision problems are often first suspected due to poor performance in reading and writing, or because of behavioral problems that develop due to frustration with vision struggles at school. However, children with visual learning problems may struggle with math as well.
Though many children with vision problems perform better in math than they do in reading, math performance can also be affected by poor visual processing skills. You might wonder why math is not equally as difficult as reading for these students; this is because math does not always require as much sustained and controlled eye movement as reading.
With the exception of word problems, students are not required to follow along a line of text, recognize and remember as many combinations of symbols, or remain focused on blocks of text for long periods of time. But poor visual processing skills that interfere with reading performance may also cause students to struggle with math.
Just as in reading and writing letters, math requires skills in laterality and directionality. Writing or processing numbers backwards or flipped can cause confusion and frustration for a child. Imagine mistaking 17 with 71, confusing a 9 for a 6, inverting greater than and lesser than signs, or calculating an equation in the incorrect order.
Similar to when a child loses his place while reading, poor tracking skills might cause him to lose his place within a math problem. He will have to keep numbers lined up properly and organized to calculate even basic math, such as aligning columns of numbers for adding, or following the diagonal movement of a division or multiplication problem.
If your child has trouble focusing or pointing his eyes as a team and struggles with double vision, numbers may be duplicated, misaligned, or he may make an error in the ‘place’ relative to a decimal point. A misplaced decimal point or number placement can easily throw off an entire equation for anyone, so someone who has a vision problem is even more prone to such errors.
Poor visualization and spatial skills could make it difficult for a child to understand mathematical concepts, such as value, quantities, magnitude, and volume. Similar to reading comprehension, your child may need to create a mental image and associate meaning to amounts in order to process a math problem. This becomes even more difficult as math becomes more complex in later years.
Symptoms of a vision problem that may be evident while a child is working on math include reversing and flipping numbers, performing poorly on word or story problems, counting on fingers, performing better in oral drills than working on paper, messy and misaligned work, and working very slowly to eventually get the correct answer. Again, you are more likely to detect a vision problem during reading and writing, but do not overlook signs while your child is working on math.
Fortunately, an individualized vision therapy program can help to reduce the struggles your child might be facing with math.
If you suspect your child could have a learning-related visual processing problem, schedule a comprehensive functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care. If you are in the Olney or Silver Spring, MD area, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an exam today.