11 Key Signs of Learning Difficulties From Vision Problems

Dr. Russel Lazarus, January 15, 2022

Here are 11 signs that your child’s vision may be impacting their school grades.

According to the American Optometric Society, around 60% of our brain is dedicated to some function related to gathering or interpreting visual information.

That means more space in our brain is dedicated to vision than of all the other senses combined.

It is small wonder then, that a child who is having any difficulties in their visual system may also have learning difficulties.

Vision skills and learning

Vision is more than just 20/20 sight, as a child needs to have well developed visual skills to perform at school. 

Some of the essential vision skills that may affect your child’s learning are:

1. Eye teaming and tracking 

When learning, it is very important for your child’s eyes to be able to move smoothly (tracking) and in unison (teaming) to gather information efficiently.

When reading, eye teaming difficulties can cause headaches and double vision, and tracking issues can cause your child to lose their place and have difficulty understanding what they’ve read.

2. Eye focusing

This is the eyes’ ability to focus and refocus when shifting between objects at different viewing distances.

Poor visual focusing skills can cause your child to experience headaches, eye strain and poor attention span.

Signs of vision-related learning problems

Problems with vision skills can have a severe effect on learning, as outlined above. But, they will only be detected as part of a comprehensive eye exam with your optometrist.

Signs that your child may have a vision issue that is affecting their learning include:

1. Reading below grade level

If your child is reading below grade level this could be a sign of a number of vision problems.

Your child may have trouble with eye teaming or eye tracking, or visual acuity issues such as hyperopia or astigmatism.

If they have any of these or similar conditions, words may seem blurry or double, or they may seem to move across the page as your child reads.

2. Disinterest in reading or other tasks requiring extended concentration

Reading and other activities that require extended concentration can cause headaches, eye strain, and blurry or double vision in those who have poor vision skills.

Certain visual issues can also make it difficult to process and understand visually-presented information — all of these factors can cause your child to become disinterested in these activities.

3. Covering or closing one eye while reading

Sometimes one eye is significantly weaker than the other, causing your child to prefer not to use that eye while reading.

Attempting to use both eyes can cause blurry or double vision and headaches.

If it goes untreated, it can result in a condition known as amblyopia (lazy eye), in which the brain begins to ignore signals sent from the weaker eye, leading to long term vision problems.

4. Losing their place when reading a book or other text

If your child has visual tracking issues, they are likely to lose their place as they attempt to read a text.

This happens as a result of being unable to move their eyes across the page in a fluid motion. Instead, their eyes have to “jump” every time they want to move to the next word.

This makes it much more difficult for them to keep their spot as they’re reading and can also make reading comprehension much more difficult, causing your child to lose interest or have difficulty paying attention.

SEE RELATED: The 17 Key Visual Skills

For more information about treatment for vision issues that may be impacting your child’s learning, contact an eye doctor near you.

Find a Vision Therapy Eye Doctor Near You

5. Eye squinting

Eye squinting is often a sign of refractive errors such as myopia or astigmatism.

Your child may complain of double or blurry vision and difficulty reading small print in books or seeing objects unless they are close-by.

Eye squinting corrects this issue, but can cause eye strain and headaches after long periods of reading or other activities requiring concentration.

6. Head turns or tilts when trying to focus

Your child’s tendency to tilt their head when trying to focus can be caused by a misalignment of their eyes that causes an issue with binocular vision.

Tilting their head helps to realign their eyes and recover binocular vision, but can cause aches and pains throughout the body, especially in the neck and shoulders.

7. Holding reading material too close or sits close to the TV

This is another possible sign of refractive error. 

The fact that myopia causes images to be blurry the further away they are may encourage your child to hold books closer to their eyes and sit closer to the television.

8. Headaches or sore eyes after prolonged reading

Poor visual skills such as convergence insufficiency (CI), in which the eyes are not able to converge properly on images close-up, can cause serious issues with your child’s ability to read.

A child with CI will struggle to maintain single vision while reading, and this constant struggle can cause headaches and eye strain.

9. Eyes that cross or are not straight

Crossed eyes are a common sign of conditions such as strabismus (eye turns) or amblyopia (lazy eye).

These binocular vision disorders can cause problems with depth perception and 3D vision.

A study published in November 2015, in Science Daily found that children with amblyopia read significantly more slowly than their peers in the same grade level— often resulting in frustration and poor self-esteem.

10. Poor hand-eye coordination

Poor hand-eye coordination is a common sign of visual tracking, convergence and binocular vision disorders.

It is essential to accurately judge distance, orientation and speed (if the object is in motion) in order to properly interact with the world.

11. Spelling or comprehension difficulties

This may be a sign of a number of vision problems, including issues with eye teaming, as well as problems with visual memory and perception.

Eye teaming issues can prevent your child from seeing words correctly due to double or blurry vision, which often leads to letter reversals in the middle of words.

Visual memory and perception issues may prevent your child from processing or remembering the spelling of words, even if they’ve seen the words many times already.

Improving visual skills can improve learning

If your optometrist diagnoses your child with a refractive error such as myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism, they will determine the level of the error and prescribe glasses or contact lenses to help correct it.

For issues involving the vision skills, your optometrist may recommend vision therapy.

Vision therapy is a science-based, customized regimen of at-home and in-office eye exercises that usually takes 4-6 months to complete.

At the end of this time, your child’s vision should improve, giving them the tools they need to succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

LEARN MORE: Vision Therapy for Children

Contact an eye doctor near you to determine if a vision problem may be impacting your child’s academic success.