Vision Problems and Special Needs
Children with Special Needs have the same vision problems as neuro-typical children. These disorders may include, nearsightedness or farsightedness, as well as other eye-coordination disorders such as eye turns (strabismus); eye movement dysfunction, “lazy eye” (amblyopia); or poor eye teaming and coordination, causing the child to have a distorted sense of what he or she is viewing. Depth perception and other visual information-processing problems are also common.Vision problems of this nature can add to your child’s challenges. A hidden visual dysfunction may affect a child’s behavior, interfering with the ability to read and learn, and reducing the ability to perform routine tasks.
It is important for parents to understand that we are not born with perfect vision. As a result vision develops as your child grows, starting in infancy. Most people don’t realize the eyes are actually part of the brain, which means that if there is any neurological challenge or developmental delay, vision will be impacted.
The good news is that because vision is developed, in many cases, we are able to help children (and even adults) develop the necessary visual skills through vision therapy.
Vision Problems Often Get Overlooked
Often, the Special Needs child is unable to sit still for a normal eye exam, which can result in an inaccurate or incomplete evaluation. The child may have an intermittent (occasional), rather than a constant eye turn that could go undetected.
Most vision screenings and even many eye exams focus on how clearly one can see the letters on the eye chart. All this measures is how clearly one can see letters at a distance of 20 feet away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us how well once can see things at reading distance.
Children don’t know how they are supposed to see, so they rarely complain, leaving certain problems hidden. So it is vital parents know the behavioral signs to watch for. For example, some of the signs that a vision problem may be contributing to the challenges that can accompany autism spectrum disorders include:
- Eye contact avoidance
- Closing or covering one eye
- Unable to catch or throw a ball
- Closes eyes in order to hear
- Poor and uneven handwriting
- Inability to listen and look simultaneously
- Over use of peripheral vision
- Stiff-legged walk
- Poking at the sides of his eyes
- Turns off lights or turn lights on and off (disco style)
- Watching spinning objects
- Eyeballing things – getting really close to objects
- Watching things repetitively
- Loves looking at shiny objects
- Has difficulty in locking on or maintaining eye contact
Any of the above is a sign that your child would benefit from a developmental vision evaluation.
For children who are not on the spectrum, here are some additional signs to look for:
- Skips/repeats lines when reading
- Omits small words when reading
- Poor reading comprehension
- Homework takes longer than it should
- Reduced visual attention
- Trouble keeping attention on reading
- Difficulty completing assignments on time
- Difficulty copying from board
- Burning, itchy, watery eyes
- Tilts head/closes one eye when reading
- Closes or covers one eye
- One eye turns in or out
- Avoids near work/reading
- Unable to listen and look at same time
- Holds reading material too close
- Poor handwriting
- Clumsy/knocks things over
- Car/motion sickness
- Unusual neck and body postures
- Visual perceptual problems
- Uncontrolled eye shaking (Nystagmus)
Any or all of the above are signs that a vision problem may be contributing to your child’s challenges. A developmental vision evaluation is necessary in order to identify the specific vision problem and your best treatment options.