What Parents Need to Know About How Vision Problems Interfere with Learning (Even if a Child Has 20/20 Eyesight)

Did you know that your child could have 20/20 eyesight yet still have a vision problem that significantly interferes with his or her ability to learn? It’s true, and it’s more common than most parents, teachers, child-development professionals, or even family eye doctors are aware.

Vision is comprised of three main components — reception, processing, and output; and each of these main components of vision are complex.

  • Reception is the ability to see clearly, singularly, and comfortably. It’s the input function, similar to entering data into a computer.
  • Visual Processing is the brain’s ability to determine and compute the information our eyes receive. After the computer gets the data, it manipulates, categorizes, and runs it through various processes.
  • Output is the result of visual processing.

If any aspect of the complex vision system is not functioning in a normal and healthy way, the ability to learn can be impacted significantly.

Click here to read 9 Signs Your Child May Have an Undiagnosed Vision Problem


Your child’s vision exam typically only covers the ability to see letters on a chart clearly and singularly for a few seconds.

However, there is a third component of reception that is also important, but isn’t tested by many doctors— the ability to see comfortably. For example, if you hold a pen within inches of your nose, you may be able to see clearly and singularly. But for how long?

Seeing the pen singularly and clearly for just a few seconds does not mean that your eyes can work properly and without strain for longer periods. For instance, you may be able to lift a chair with one hand for a few seconds, but does that mean you can hold it at that height for thirty minutes? No.

Likewise, many children who can look at the tip of their nose cannot maintain clear, single vision at near for more than a few minutes. And those children who can’t, feel strained, tired, or fatigued when reading. They may rub their eyes, blink, or close or cover one eye to avoid using them both. And often, they will try to avoid the activities that make them feel uncomfortable.

Watch for signs of strain and discomfort in your child as he or she reads, works on a computer, or writes, because these problems can affect learning.

Visual Processing

Typical vision exams do not test for visual processing skills. Normal visual processing requires a complex system of neurological activity to be developed and functioning properly.

For example, visual processing speed and accuracy involves reading words, sentences, and numbers quickly and accurately. Selective concentration within visual processing requires a child to stay on a visual task, even with distractions present. Visual memory is an aspect of visual processing that refers to the ability to accurately remember what is only seen for a short period of time. Visualization is the process of creating a mental picture in the mind that is used to solve a problem.

Many children lack good visual processing skills. Because of a delay in development or disorder, their vision system has trouble computing visual input. They can’t make sense of what they see as easily as their peers who have a properly functioning vision system.

Consequently, visual processing problems may cause their performance of everyday tasks such as reading, memorizing, and studying tends to be slower than normal, and their abilities in these areas can fall below average.


Output is the ability to take the gathered and processed information, and make an appropriate response or action. For example, the output may be the creation of a mental image, an oral or written response, or a gesture.

A child who tends to make more errors than average to complete a task, and/or uses an excessive amount of energy to handle visual information, could be revealing deficient visual processing skills in their output. Often, but not always, the symptoms of a vision problem become apparent in the output.

A child who makes more reversal errors than average may have underlying visual processing problems in the areas of visual memory, discrimination, visualization, laterality, and association skills. Poor visual-motor integration could be the cause of messy handwriting.

Vision Therapy Can Help

At the Visual Learning Center in Olney, Maryland, our vision training program is concerned with all three components of vision (reception, processing and output). But we concentrate on visual processing skills most because they are so vital to effective learning.

No one knows the full reason why some children have a greater difficulty with visual processing skills — it’s part hereditary, part environment, and part education-based.

The important thing to note is that, though vision problems can interfere with learning, visual processing skills are learned skills that can be improved. Comprehensive functional vision exams and testing can pinpoint which visual processing skills are most deficient, so that an individualized vision therapy program can focus on specific areas.

By concentrating on and correcting specific problem areas in your child’s visual processing system, vision therapy can eliminate many of the underlying causes of learning difficulties. The symptoms a child with vision problems experience, such as discomfort, poor memory, poor concentration and comprehension, toiling over simple tasks, and avoiding complicated tasks, can improve significantly in a relatively short amount of time or even disappear altogether.

To learn more about how vision affects learning, download our free guide here, and watch our webinar for parents here.

If suspect that an undetected vision problem is interfering with your child’s ability to learn effectively, schedule an exam with a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care right away.

If your family lives in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact us at Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule an appointment.

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