Speaker Series in Review: Learning Related Vision Problems
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Speaker Series in Review: Learning Related Vision Problems

Life Development Institute continued its Speaker Series on May 18,2016 as Dr. Paula Handford and Dr. Jennifer Idoni from Midwestern University offered the community insight into learning related vision problems.  Unknown to most persons, vision actually accounts for as much as 80% of the learning process.  Clearly then, vision problems can interfere with learning.  As such, treating the vision problem can help increase learning.

According to the American Public Health Association, approximately 25% of students, kindergarten through sixth grade, have visual problems that are great enough to disrupt learning.  Most often, these problems go unnoticed.  One potential reason that such vision issues go unnoticed is that often persons are tested for how well things can be seen up close and far away.  Although this is a good test, it does not account for other important elements, such as how much effort is needed to see clearly, how to use both eyes together, and how much meaning is actually gained from what is seen.  These factors work together to measure visual efficiency and visual processing of information.

Dr Idoni
Dr. Handford

Dr. Handford and Dr. Idoni identified three pieces that encapsulate visual efficiency.  First, eye tracking is important as it provides for rapid and accurate shifting of the eyes.  This includes fixations (maintaining one place), pursuits (following a target smoothly), and saccades (jump movement from one point to another).  Second, eye focusing refers to the ability the eyes have to maintain clarity when shifting focus from near then far and back.  Third, eye teaming enables persons to see a single image.  However, persons who have difficulty with eye teaming have double vision.  Continuing the discussion, visual information processing skills work alongside visual efficiency and help people understand visual information.         

Additionally, other visual skills exist as necessary elements in learning.  To begin, visual spatial orientation skills enable balance, coordination, navigation, and realization of orientation of symbols, such as know that a “b” is not a “d.”  Next, visual analysis skills encourage accuracy with locating, selecting, extracting, analyzing, recalling, and manipulating visual information, which plays a large role in symbol recognition and math concepts.  Then, visual-motor integration enables eye-hand coordination necessary in sports, aids in balance and coordination, and is a key factor for writing.  Finally, auditory-visual integration provides the link between visual and heard information, such as hearing a word and writing it down.

As such, current research on learning related vision problems suggests that visual efficiency deficits cause higher ADHD survey scores, which reinforces the need for persons with ADHD to have an eye exam.  Concerning eye exams, it is important to recognize the key differences in the three core players.  First, an optician helps with finding and ordering glasses.  Second, an ophthalmologist performs eye surgeries.  Third, an optometrist specializes in refraction and may focus on pediatrics, vision therapy, low vision, ocular disease, and contact lenses.  Additionally, a developmental optometrist is the specialist who has a primary, key, and unique role in this conversation. The developmental optometrist evaluates all aspects of vision, which include prescription glasses, eye health, visual efficiency, and visual information processing.

Finally, upon identification of vision problems, vision therapy exists as a potential treatment.  Vision Therapy includes a sequence of activities that an optometrist has patients use in order to build visual skills along with the efficiency to obtain, understand, and use visual information.  Vision therapy is open to persons at any age.  Vision therapy is highly successful and has been supported by decades of research and testimony.  

To conclude, Dr. Handford and Dr. Idoni offered a great presentation full of valuable information for the community.  In fact, their work at Midwestern University can be seen as part of the various service provided at Midwestern, which include vision therapy, pediatrics, primary care, acquired brain injury, low vision and visual rehabilitation, contact lens, ocular prosthetics, electro diagnostics, advanced ocular disease, and optical services.

For further questions, please contact Dr. Paula Handford, OD, FAAO, at phandf@midwestern.edu as well as Dr. Jennifer Idoni, OD, FAAO, at jidoni@midwestern.edu.  

This has been a special needs program update from Life Development Institute. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.