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Visual Perception in Children - When An Eye Test Is Not Enough

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

The eyes are more than just the window to the soul, they are also an integral part of our ability to function well in the classroom, at home and in the wider community. Children with visual perception problems need to be identified and given support and intervention to help them learn well.

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    A Standard Eye Test

    A standard eye test is generally conducted by an optometrist who assesses the general functioning of the eye as well as the health of the eye and optic nerve. They will determine if a child is able to see correctly, and can identify problems such as near or far sightedness or problems with correct focusing and eye alignment. Many children receive a standard eye test prior to school entry or at some point in their early school years. This is a highly valuable activity as it can identify early on those children who may require assistance through glasses or other means to correct vision problems. It can also identify any children who have an eye disease or vision problem which has not been previously noted. But for some children, this standard eye test is not enough.

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    Visual Skills and Visual Perception

    For some children, the ability to use the eyes to communicate meaningful information to the brain about what is being seen is not functioning as it should. Often this will only become apparent as the child enters school and begins to spend more time on 'pen and paper' activities such as drawing, writing and performing math tasks. The teacher may observe the child having difficulties in a variety of areas of visual perception, such as:

    • reversing letters or numbers
    • having trouble recognising the same word when it is seen again in the next sentence or page of a book
    • confusing words which have similar component parts (such as letter blends at the start or end of the word which are similar)
    • draws with the fingers to help differentiate and discriminate

    Some children may also have problems in other areas of visual skill, such as eye teaming. This is where the eyes have trouble working together as a pair, and tend to work in isolation instead. The child with eye teaming problems may tend to:

    • skip lines when reading
    • lose their place when reading
    • have a fairly short attention span for visual tasks
    • have trouble organising the placement of drawings on a page
    • tilt their head for written work
    • use their finger to mark their place on a page
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    A Behavioral Optometrist

    A specialist optometrist called a behavioral optometrist can be useful in assessing visual perceptual skills and deciding if a child is having trouble which is related to how their eyes are functioning. This is the best person to determine if the difficulties are about simple 'readiness' for school learning, or if there is a more significant problem. A behavioral optometrist can diagnose and treat a range of visual perceptual problems and can work with teachers to help the child achieve their goals in an academic setting.