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child with accommodative dysfunction

Functional Vision Problems: What Happens if Your Child’s Eyes Do Not Focus Like They Should?

Sometimes we need to see things far away, and sometimes we need to see things that are nearby. From moment to moment, those needs change. A child at school, may need to see the worksheet on her desk, the equation the teacher is writing on the board, a book on her lap, a list on the bulletin board, a digital tablet, or a big screen video in the front of the classroom.

Eye muscles function one way to see close items clearly and they function a different way to see items clearly at a distance. The muscles that focus the lenses in our eyes have to adjust quickly and often to focus on various points of visual interest or sustain that focus over an extended period of time. Otherwise, our vision becomes fuzzy or blurred.

If a child has “normal” healthy vision, he or she will have the ability to bring objects of visual interest into sharp focus rapidly and sustain focus as needed. This function is automatic, subconscious, and occurs without extra concentrated effort or strain on the vision system.

However, children with poor focusing skills have a functional vision problem we refer to as accommodative dysfunction. A child with an accommodative disorder has to put forth extra effort and concentration to bring a blurry object into focus or to maintain focus for a sustained period of time. The child will struggle to bring the text on the page in front of her into focus, and then look up to see blurry text on the board, and struggle all over again to bring it into focus.

Her classmates without a focusing problem, will look up at the board and down again at their paper, seeing text clearly each time with no extra concerted effort.

Research has shown that elementary students spend as much as 75% of their day looking back and forth from near to far. So it comes as no surprise that a child who has trouble focusing will grow weary, stressed, and frustrated throughout the day. As a result, these children often lag behind in progress and performance, and sometimes they are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities, dyslexia, behavioral disorders, or attention problems.

Signs your child may have accommodative dysfunction include:

  • Missing more questions at the end of a test
  • Copying from the board slowly or with lots of mistakes
  • Complaining of blurred or fuzzy vision, especially towards the end of the day
  • Rubbing and squinting eyes
  • Poor attention span, fidgeting, and behaviors often mistaken for ADD/ADHD
  • Bending close or bobbing and tilting head while reading
  • Headaches or aching eyes
  • Avoiding reading or near work, especially with small print

A typical eye exam by your family eye doctor or school vision screening generally only tests clear vision at a distance. Most eye doctors do not test accommodative facility, so it’s possible to have 20/20 eyesight yet still have poor focusing skills.

If you suspect your child might have trouble focusing, schedule a functional vision exam with an optometrist trained in developmental vision care right away. If diagnosed, vision therapy treatment can result in significant improvement in a relatively short amount of time.

Click here to read Vision Therapy success stories.

If your family is located in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact the Visual Learning Center today to schedule a functional vision exam with our developmental optometrist, Dr. Philip Nicholson.

Teacher Appreciation Week: How Vision Therapy Can Help Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and we want to express a big thank you to all of the teachers who support students in the classroom. At the Visual Learning Center, we work daily with children who have struggled in school due to learning-related vision problems, sometimes for years before receiving a diagnosis; and their caring, patient, and skilled teachers deserve appreciation for their dedication to each child’s success.

Classroom teachers serve as our allies and partners in vision therapy, so we wish to celebrate their service to the community and welcome the opportunity offer our support in return.

When a child has difficulty in school — particularly if parents feel confident that their child is smart — teachers sometimes endure undue blame. Parents are understandably frustrated when a child performs poorly and may assume the teacher should know what to do to improve their child’s performance.

Teachers are educated in a wide variety of subject matter, teaching methods, and classroom management skills; and they receive training in detecting possible learning disabilities and special needs. However, the majority of teachers are unaware of how common learning-related vision problems are, and most teachers simply do not know how to recognize the symptoms.

Once teachers learn about how vision affects learning, they begin to recognize vision problems in their classroom right away and realize this is something they have been dealing with for years.

So, how can teachers get the help they need?

First, they have to be able to recognize vision symptoms that may affect learning, such as:

  • Squinting while reading near or far
  • Rubbing eyes continuously throughout the day
  • Rubbing temple or forehead and complaining of headaches
  • Complaints of dizziness or motion sickness
  • Skipping words or losing place while reading
  • Confusing similar words
  • Reversing letters
  • Easily distracted, inattentive, unable to stay on task
  • Disruptive behavior, especially after expressing frustration with work
  • Poor hand-eye coordination, depth perception, or awkwardness and clumsiness
  • Performs noticeably better orally than written

As you may recognize, many of these symptoms can also indicate learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, or even health problems; and consequently, misdiagnosis is common. A possible vision problem is often overlooked.

If you are a teacher, you can expect that parents may dismiss your suggestion that their child has a vision problem because he or she has “20/20 eyesight.”  It is important for teachers to understand that the vision problems that affect learning are not usually detected during routine vision screenings at school or typical vision exams with the family’s eye doctor.

Typical vision exams only test for eye sight, or vision clarity at a distance. However, vision involves an entire vision processing system — the coordination of eye muscles and the brain.

A healthy vision system can function well over prolonged periods of time in a classroom setting; but if the child has a vision problem, he will grow tired and frustrated, not understanding why he has so much trouble doing tasks that seem easy for his peers. So a child with vision problems might seem to give up, have low self-esteem, or act out as a result.

Once a child is properly diagnosed by an optometrist who specializes in functional and developmental vision care, he can take part in an intensive individualized vision therapy program, which is likely to bring about remarkably fast and long-term results.

To learn more about vision and vision therapy, download our free guide, watch our webinar, and see our resources for teachers and parents.

If you are a teacher in Olney, Silver Spring, or the surrounding area, invite Dr. Philip Nicholson to speak at your school or association. Click here to learn more.