Ocular-Motor and Eye-Teaming Skills
Vision also depends on proper functioning of the eye muscles. Ocular muscles keep the eyes aligned and help them move smoothly and simultaneously. Visual acuity in each eye may be normal, but if the eyes don't work together as a team like a pair of binoculars, conflicting fields of visual input can result in confusing misperceptions about the world. Working in concert with vestibular and visual sensory information, the eye muscles must also be able to...
- follow moving objects such as a ball or children running in the playground;
- visually fixate on objects as you move to keep the visual field stable;
- control sequential scanning, such as when reading lines of print in a book;
- re-fixate from one point to another, such as from one word to the next when reading, or from near to far and back, such as when taking notes from the board.
The world is crowded with a constant barrage of visual images. As your child's brain matures, she learns to filter out what's not important and attend to what she actually needs to see. You could be standing next to the TV talking to her, but she will only see Dora the Explorer. You may have to raise your voice, tap her shoulder, or fully block Dora to get her attention. Another child might be sitting in a classroom looking at the teacher, following her every move. Or she might be looking all over the room, giving equal visual attention to the truck outside, her teacher's nice new boots, the half-erased chalkboard, and so on. It is hard for her to direct her visual attention because she is distracted by conflicting visual stimuli. She is looking at everything and learning, sometimes, nothing.
A child might compensate for faulty visual processing by hyperfocusing. Whereas the child engrossed in TV or video is following a story or game, the hyperfocused child doesn't appear to gain anything from this behavior. He is. He is taking a break from the demands of the world and tuning it out by focusing his vision, much like a yogi in meditation.
On one end of the spectrum, there are children who crave visual stimulation. They may actually be learning while staring at something and appearing to be tuned out. For example, Lindsey observed Marlon, who at age two loved nothing more than dumping out his bucket of letters, numbers, and shapes and looking at them for hours. Then, six months later, he spontaneously began to write and draw simple shapes with off-the-developmental-charts accuracy.
Common Signs of Vision Problems
Because children don't realize when they see differently than anyone else does, you have to watch for sometimes subtle symptoms and behaviors. Does your child...
- complain of headaches or tiredness, rub his eyes often, or squint?
- have difficulty concentrating and paying attention?
- skip words or lines or frequently lose his place when reading unless he uses his finger as a guide?
- have poor handwriting and drawing skills?
- have trouble copying from the board?
- seem disinterested in, or overly distracted by, objects in the environment?