VISION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR CHILD
by Bill Takeshita, O.D., F.A.A., F.C.O.V.D.

Vision is a very important skill that affects a child's learning and general development. As early as birth, a child uses vision to learn to recognize and identify faces. By three months of age, the visual areas of the brain allow the child to communicate by reading and interpreting facial expressions. Children also use vision during the early years of life to imitate expressions and activities they have seen, such as dancing or shooting a basketball into a basket. Vision plays a significant role in other aspects of a child's life, including learning to stack blocks, assemble a puzzle, write letters, read, and participate in sports.

Unfortunately, a child may have vision problems. Often, these vision problems are not detected early on and this affects the overall development and learning potential of the child. Studies have found that a child with vision problems may be delayed in various aspects of development by two to three times. In addition, vision problems are frequently associated with learning difficulties in the classroom.

Parents should be aware that there are three primary classifications of vision problems. These are described briefly, below.

Eye Problems

A child may be born with eye problems that may cause blurred sight, double vision, color blindness, sensitivity to glare, and reduced peripheral vision. Eye problems are often not detected until a child has been screened by a nurse in kindergarten. Early detection and treatment of eye problems is critical.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists who specialize in working with children can detect vision problems as early as birth. The American Optometric Association recommends that children have a complete vision assessment at the age of six months to screen for eye diseases such as cataracts, retinal problems from prematurity, and optic nerve disease. The examination will also detect crossed or turned eyes (strabismus) and lazy eye (amblyopia). Glasses, medications, eye exercises, and surgery can correct many eye problems.

Visual Processing Problems

Vision is a very complex phenomenon that occurs in various parts of the brain, not in the eyes. The eyes merely send information to the brain to be processed. Over two thirds of the brain is involved in the process of vision. Consequently, neurological conditions, such as seizures, head trauma, prematurity, brain hemorrhage, or lack of oxygen may affect a child's ability to process visual information.

Neurological insult is one of the leading causes of vision impairment among children. It is most often due to the lack of oxygen at or shortly after birth. Vision simulation is strongly recommended to attempt to stimulate the visual areas of the brain, allowing the child to develop some vision.

Some children who never suffered from neurological trauma, lack of oxygen, or other head injury may have visual processing difficulties that affect their ability to read, write or learn through the visual system. These children may suffer from a visual learning disability. Children with visual perception problems may have difficulty learning to recognize and identify shapes, numbers, letters and words. In addition, they may have problems drawing, writing, copying from the chalkboard, solving puzzles, and reading maps or diagrams.

Accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendations are critical to help such children learn most effectively in the classroom.

Visual Motor Problems

The visual areas of the brain send information to the motor areas, directing the hands, feet and body to react to what has been seen. Eye problems and visual processing problems in the brain both affect the development of eye hand and eye body coordination. Children with visual motor problems may have difficulty walking, playing sports and performing activities that involve the eyes and muscle of the body.

Assistive technology can be very helpful for those who have visual graphomotor (writing) problems and visual motor integration difficulties. Occupational therapy is also very helpful for these children.

Bill Takeshita is the Director of Children Services at the Center for the Partially Sighted in Los Angeles, California. If you would like further information, please contact him at 310-458-3501 or visit the Centerís website at www.low-vision.org.

Reprinted with permission by:
SNAP
Special Needs Advocate for Parents
1801 Avenue of the Stars #401
Century City, CA 90067
or you can reach us at:
(888) 310-9889 (toll-free phone)
(310) 201-9889 (fax)
email: info@snapinfo.org

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