How Vision Issues Affect Reading and Learning

Over 10 million children suffer from undetected vision problems in the United States.  Almost 1 out of every 5 school-aged children struggles with reading. Some suffer from dyslexia or a learning disability, but a large number of these children have something in common.  Their language processing and phonetic awareness skills are intact; their vision is not.  Vision is often the hidden problem that keeps students from doing well in school.

Vision problems are often overlooked because the child appears to be able to see; and doesn’t complain about his eyes.  He may also have passed a vision screening exam (with 20/20), or has not had a comprehensive vision exam.


Vision and learning are closely related; about 80% of what a child learns in school is presented visually.  Vision also plays a major role in reading.  Kids must have clear, crisp eye sight to see print.  While many schools do vision screening (typically measures distance vision using eye charts), children’s vision as it relates to reading and learning involves much more. Vision problems can make a child look like they are not paying attention, are lazy, or are not trying hard enough.  These children may have also have been misdiagnosed as having dyslexia, ADHD, or learning disabled.  Vision issues deal with visual problems, and are not the same as language-based reading problems.  That is why it is imperative to include a comprehensive eye exam by a developmental optometrist to consider or rule out all causes of reading and learning problems.


The following are vision issues that should be addressed if reading or learning problems exist:


Eye Movement/Eye Tracking problems:

-exist when one or both eyes don’t move smoothly, accurately, and quickly across a line

-also includes the inability to fixate (lock eyes) on a single word on a page

-kids with tracking problems lose their place, skip or transpose words, misread short words [“See Jane run” may look like “Se eJan erun”] and have a hard time with comprehension because of the difficulty of moving their eyes accurately

-may also have trouble copying and doing tasks that require good eye movement control skills

-kids with tracking problems can’t control their eye movements at close range


Eye Teaming/Convergence Insufficiency

-approximately 1 in 10 school-aged children have eye teaming problems

-for our visual system to work the right way, both eyes have to aim at the exact same point in space so that the images that are being recorded are identical;  the brain must combine the 2 images for a clear single vision

-if eyes don’t aim together, the images recorded will be slightly different

-the brain subconsciously suppresses or inhibits vision in the weaker eye to avoid confusion; that eye can then develop amblyopia or lazy eye



Eye teaming, continued…

-reading requires close distance vision; kids with eye teaming problems can only focus their eyes correctly for a short period of time; as this ability breaks down, their eyes point in slightly different places on a page

-reading and comprehension become more difficult due to eye strain from print that seems to blur, jump, swim and move, or split apart

-other issues caused by eye-teaming problems include headache, fatigue, and frustration



-the ability to adjust the focus of the eyes as the distance between the child and the object changes; i.e. the child needs to shift focus and attention between his book and the chalkboard or whiteboard

-maintaining this focus is important for reading, writing, and taking tests


Vision Perception 

( note: the following categories are taken from

-visual discrimination: the ability to distinguish between similarly spelled words such as was/saw; on/one; run/ran


-visual memory: helps children remember what they read and see by processing information through their short term memory and getting it into their long term memory.

Problems with visual memory lead to struggles with comprehension, failing to recognize the same word on different pages, and difficulty copying because they have to frequently review the text


-visual sequential memory- ability to remember forms or characters in the right order; such as in the area of spelling; kids with problems in this area may leave out or add letters to words, or transpose letters within words


-visual spatial orientation- aids in letter reversals, as well as laterality and directionality; kids with this issue may have trouble with left and right (often the cause of letter reversals in children older than age 7 is the inconsistency of knowing left from right)


-vision form constancy- helps kids distinguish differences in size, shape and orientation; kids with poor vision form constancy may often reverse letters and numbers


-visual closure- this skill, which involves the ability to visualize a complete whole when given a partial picture, allows kids to read and comprehend quickly; their eyes don’t have to process every letter of every word.  Kids with visual closure difficulties may confuse similar objects or words, (especially if the words have similar beginnings and endings), and may have a hard time completing a thought


-visual figure ground- involves the ability to find a form or object in a busy field without getting confused by the background; this keeps kids from getting lost in the details.  If kids have problems in this area, they can be confused when there is too much print on a page, which may affect their concentration.  They also have trouble scanning printed material to find specific information


Vision problems and math:

Kids with vision problems may exhibit the following in math:

-difficulty lining up numbers and decimal points

-reverse numbers

-do great at simple arithmetic, yet have problems when doing word problems

-have problems solving problems with multiple digits (especially lining up multiplication and long division problems)

-lack visualization skills; will count on fingers or verbalize sequences; will often do poorly on times tests

-trouble visually imagining distances between numbers

-trouble seeing decimals or symbols

-problems with visual motor and visual thinking skills inhibit their ability to understand math’s relationship to space and time (especially in geometry and algebra)


What to do?

-find a developmental optometrist in your area to find out what, if any, visual issues may be interfering with your child’s progress in school.


-your optometrist may prescribe vision therapy (highly researched and supported method

of remediating inadequate visual systems by improving function and performance)

-vision therapy information:; Dr. Kellye Knueppel


-to find a qualified behavioral optometrist, contact your family physician, family optometrist, or College of Optometrists in Vision Development [888-268-3770;] -there is also a checklist of symptoms that you can print from the following website


-another wonderful resource that includes information for both parents and teachers is the American Optometric Association (