Vision & Learning

Everyone knows the eyes have to see clearly (visual acuity) to function well. The eyes have to do much more than that, though. When looking at near, the eyes have to focus on the page to make it clear (eye focusing) as well as work together (eye teaming). When reading, the eyes have to move accurately from one word to the next (eye tracking) without losing place. These skills are critical for reading and learning, and when deficient can cause frustration, misbehavior, and school failure (barriers to learning). Some children have an eye that turns in or out (eye turn or “strabismus”) or an eye that doesn’t see as well as the other (lazy eye or “amblyopia”), and this can significantly interfere with their visual skills and depth perception.

Visual Acuity


Eye Focusing


Eye Teaming


Eye Tracking



Most of the learning done in school is dependent on VISION. If a child has to struggle to see, they are going to struggle to learn. Often children are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADHD or dyslexia.



Sometimes these children are just referred to as lazy when really their visual skills are deficient and hindering their learning ability. Vision and learning are directly connected!

A major portion of what we learn is taken in through the visual system. Vision is a contributing factor to an individual’s ability to attend and respond to classroom instruction.

There are many aspects of vision which might affect an individual’s abilities to attend and respond to teacher instruction.

  • Nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism can result in blurred vision or eye strain, and relate to performance in the classroom.
  • Individuals may have focusing problems which do not allow them to rapidly change focus from book to chalkboard and vice versa.
  • They may have difficulty using both eyes together. This dysfunction can require excess effort to overcome and may interfere with visual information processing.
  • An individual may have difficulty controlling eye movements. This could result in loss of place when reading, frequent guessing of words, need for the use of the finger to maintain one’s place, or other more subtle difficulties.


Learning-Related Vision Problem Facts & Figures

  • Up to 25% off all school age children have vision problems significant enough to impair
    academic performance. The rate may be as high as 60% for those children labeled as having
    learning problems.1
  • An evaluation of the visual efficiency of beginning readers in a public school found that
    visual factors were the primary cause of reading failure and that most current school
    screenings are inadequate to detect these problems.2
  • A study of inner city youths found that poor vision is related to academic and behavioral
    problems among at-risk children.3


  1. American Foundation for Vision Awareness
  2. Optometry & Vision Development
  3. Journal of Behavioral Optometry

How Can I Identify Vision-Related Learning Difficulties?

A qualified eye doctor can help identify vision problems that may inhibit learning. Click here for information on “Questions to Ask Your Eye Doctor”.

Teachers and parents can observe many signs that may indicate vision and/or learning related problems. Vision problems can affect a child’s behavior. The symptoms of ADHD and learning disabilities can be similar to the symptoms of a vision problem. Click here for a “Symptoms Checklist”. This information will be helpful to print and bring to the examination with your eye doctor.

What is Visual Information Processing?

The brain must efficiently interpret and process information and surroundings from what is seen. The academic curriculum is designed on the assumption that children possess certain visual information processing abilities, as well as other skills, at certain chronological ages. In other words, is the child visually ready for school? The child who has not developed the required level of skill may have difficulty from “day one”. These difficulties might manifest themselves as problems in reading, writing, mathematics, spelling, thinking, sports endeavors, playground activities, and even the social relationships children have with their siblings and peers.

Visual Information Processing Disorders and how they relate to Academic Performance


Visual Processing Disorder

Associated Learning Difficulties

Visual form constancy = ability to recognize an object even when seen in different orientations or presentations
  • Difficulty with different fonts
  • Unable to match capital letters with lower case letters or cursive and printed letters
  • Can’t complete math problems that are written horizontally instead of vertically
  • Can’t recognize an object out of normal context
  • Can’t recognize the same word in the next sentence
Visual memory = ability to remember what has been seen
  • Poor recall where something is located or what it looks like
  • Poor sight word vocabulary
Visual sequential memory = ability to remember sequences
  • Poor spelling
  • Can’t memorize phone number
  • Trouble following multi-step instructions
  • Does not like to read
Visualization – seeing with the “mind’s eye” or acting something out in your head even if never seen before
  • Poor spelling
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Unable to run plays in sports/gym class
Laterality = development of left/right awareness on one’s self
  • Trouble learning right and left
  • Difficulty imitating movement
Directionality = development of positional concepts in space
  • Trouble learning letters and numbers
  • Letter, number, and word reversals
  • Unable to follow spatial direction
Spatial Relations = the perception of the position of objects in relation to one’s self or to each other
  • Unable to complete a pattern
  • Poor concepts of above, behind, beside, to the left, north etc.
  • Touches length of hallway to not run into wall/clumsy/accident-prone
  • Under or over reaching for objects
  • Unable to line up math problems
  • Poor penmanship – sizing, spacing
  • Poor at math concepts
Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) = ability to process and reproduce what is seen by drawing or writing
  • Illegible writing and unrecognizable drawings
  • Poor spacing between words
  • Unable to stay on the line when writing
  • Frequently erasing
  • Mismatch between oral and written answers
  • Poor performance on written tests
  • Unable to copy information from the board
Visual form discrimination = ability to discriminate among different shapes and remember what shapes mean
  • Trouble learning letters and numbers
  • Can’t recognize words
  • Can’t identify differences between items
  • Unable to match similar items
Size Constancy = ability to understand that object maintains the same size even when at far away distances or seen relative to other objects
  • Poor concept of the conservation of liquids or solids
  • Poor concept of volume
  • Poor estimation of distance
Visual Closure = ability to fill in an incomplete piece of information or come to a conclusion with limited visual information
  • Unable to recognize an item partially hidden
  • Unable to read a faxed or poorly copied message
  • Poor ability to complete puzzles
  • Trouble completing a partial sentence
Figure-ground = identifying a specific detail from surrounding information
  • Can’t find a word in a paragraph or complete word searches
  • Hard time copying the right information from the blackboard
  • Trouble with hidden pictures
  • Trouble finding pencil in a messy desk
Visual-auditory integration = ability to process visual and auditory information (visual recognition of auditory input and vice-versa)
  • Unable to recognize a printed representation of something heard
  • Unable to identify the correct word to spell on a spelling test
  • Unable to interpret music

Compilation of personal experience, information from “Hidden Eye Problems Can Block Learning” (Mitchell Scheiman), Optometric Management in Learning-Related Vision Problems (Scheiman & Rouse) and study group discussion -10/2006 Jen Simonson, OD, FCOVD

How Can Visual Information Processing Disorders be treated?

There are numerous research and clinical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of optometric vision therapy for treating problems in the functioning of the visual system. There are also numerous case reports supporting specific diagnoses and treatment plans. Studies have also demonstrated visual deficiencies and visual information processing deficits in older individuals, supporting the fact that children do not simply outgrow these deficits.


A comprehensive eye exam by a specially trained optometrist can help you determine treatment.

Download our 'Symtoms Checklist For Vision Related Learning Problems'
Fill out the Symptoms Checklist and bring it with you to your optometrist visit to help determine if your child has a problem with their visual skills.

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