Visual Processing Disorder Defined
For special education purposes, a visual processing disorder, or visual perceptual disorder refers to a child’s limited ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. School vision screenings routinely check the ability to see clearly at a distance of 20 feet as measured by an eye chart. Unfortunately, this is all school vision screenings are designed to check, and a child’s vision involves so much more.
Vital Role in the Learning Process
First of all, children must have crisp, sharp eyesight in order to see the print clearly. They must also be able to coordinate their eye movements as a team; follow a line of print, without losing their place; maintain clear focus as they read or make quick focusing changes when looking up to the board and back to their desks, and they must be able to interpret and accurately process what they are seeing. If children have inadequate visual skills in any of these areas, they can experience great difficulty in school, especially in reading.
Visual Processing Disorder usually Goes Untreated
In the US, children begin school at the age of 5 years because on the average that is the age at which their eyes are mature enough to successfully engage in learning activities. If a child has difficulty remaining focused during the early years, the first place to look is for visual immaturity.
Problems arise in helping parents understand the true nature of a child’s problem when they are told, “the school nurse checked your child’s eyes, and his vision is normal.” With this information, the parent is less likely to consider vision as a factor contributing to learning problems. As a result, many children with visual problems that would respond to intervention often go untreated.
There are at least twenty factors of vision, all of which could be the individual reason for difficulty processing visual information. It is possible for a child to have difficulty in one or a combination of these areas and still be able to see clearly at 20 feet.
An example of this is the fact that about ten percent of school-aged children have eye teaming problems. At the close up distances required for reading, children with eye teaming problems are only able to aim their eyes together correctly for short periods of time.
Visual Processing Disorder Often Misdiagnosed
Symptoms of eye teaming problems include loss of place as the print “swims” and moves, eyestrain, fatigue headaches and frustration. In addition, children with eye teaming problems can be easily distracted, finding it difficult to concentrate and remain on task when the strain on their eyes is so great (many of these children are often misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder).
Children at risk for learning-related vision problems should receive a comprehensive eye examination. This evaluation should be conducted as part of a multidisciplinary approach in which all appropriate areas of visual function are evaluated and managed. Glasses alone will not correct many of these problems. Time and further maturation may improve the problem, but it is best to get proper evaluation and care.