Vision and Learning

“I used to think I didn’t like to read because I was stupid, now I know it was a problem with my eyes.”

Dr. Cameron McCrodan, an optometrist from Canada, began his TEDx talk with the above quote. This came from a 50 year old gentleman who had been successfully treated for a reading/learning disability caused by an underlying eye movement and processing problem.

Did you know that 80% of problem readers are deficient in one or more visual skills?  And seeing clearly is only one of seventeen visual skills needed for reading and learning. Learning is accomplished through complex and inter-related processes. Your eyes and the visual system grow and develop from the brain, making vision a fundamental factor in thinking and learning. Not all people with learning problems will have visual difficulties. Likewise, not all people with visual difficulties will be classified as educationally delayed.

Vision can be defined as the mental process of deriving meaning from what is seen. There are three inter-related areas of visual function:

  • Visual pathway integrity including eye health, clarity of sight and refractive status;
  • Visual efficiency including accommodation (focussing), binocular vision (eye teaming) and eye movement control (tracking);
  • Visual information processing including spatial awareness, identification and discrimination, and integration with other senses.

We all know that development can vary immensely from person to person. Vision continues to develop after birth and is influenced by the visual environment and the individual’s experience. If a person’s visual system has not developed adequately, visually demanding activities may lead to inefficient or uncomfortable vision. Good visual acuity (clarity of sight) and healthy eyes are no assurance that an individual does not have a vision problem.

The purpose of behavioural or neuro-developmental optometric intervention in the management of children and adults with learning disabilities, is to eliminate any vision problems that may obstruct learning. A vision examination that assesses those factors influencing learning should be included as a crucial part of the multi-disciplinary process.

Neuro-developmental optometry is a huge area to talk about so we will look at elaborating further with later articles in specific areas such has children with learning difficulties and behavioural issues, post-traumatic injuries such as strokes and acquired brain injuries. In the meantime, be sure to watch Dr. Cameron McCrodan’s Tedx talk as he explains this area of optometric care extremely well.