Vision is arguably our most important sense. Vision dictates not only how we perceive the world around us, but how we process this information. Most experts agree that 80% of learning is visual.

Despite the critical role that vision plays in education, undiagnosed vision problems are common among school-age children. Undetected vision problems affect one in four children, according to the nonprofit organization Prevent Blindness America. The good news is that there are a number of warning signs to help identify a student with vision problems.

1. Behavioral Warning Signs

Behavioral issues may indicate that a student is having problems with their vision. Unfortunately, misbehavior is often attributed to poor discipline or a lack of motivation. There have even been cases where visual impairments were misdiagnosed as ADHD or ADD. Common signs of a vision problem manifesting as poor behavior may include:

– Difficulty paying attention
– Not following directions
– Talking out of turn

The classroom can be a frustrating and confusing place for a student who can’t see the writing on the board or read the pages of their book. Recognizing the signs can make it easier to distinguish students who are misbehaving from those who have problems with their vision.

2. Physical Signs of Impaired Vision

Children with a vision problem often display a number of telltale signs. Some of the most common red flags include:

– Tilting the head
– Constantly rubbing the eyes
– Squinting
– Sitting too close to the whiteboard/computer/television
– Eyes that are red or water excessively
– Holding reading materials close
– Losing their place when reading
– Excessive blinking
– Skipping words when reading
– Frequent headaches
– Shutting/covering one eye
– Sensitivity to light

If you notice a student displaying one or more of these behaviors, there is a good chance that a vision problem may be to blame. When a child has an undetected visual problem, they may not even be aware that they are doing these things. They may very well think it is normal for words to be blurry, or that everyone has to squint when they read.

3. Coordination and Spatial Awareness

Another way to identify a student with vision problems is to take note of the way they move. Children with impaired vision often struggle with things like balance and coordination. A child may be experiencing problems with their vision if you observe one or more of the following signs:

– Poor spatial awareness
– Bumping into people/objects
– Tripping when walking/going upstairs
– General clumsiness
– Poor hand-eye coordination

The first and most critical step in rectifying the ongoing issue of undiagnosed vision impairment is recognizing the warning signs. School-age children should also have routine eye exams, especially if you suspect you have a student with vision problems. The American Optometric Association recommends eye exams be conducted at 6 months, three years, before starting the first grade, and every two years until children turn 18.


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