Chapter 4: The Eyes Have it

Vision and reading

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When it comes to reading, our most important sense is our eyesight. Our eyes transmit what we see on a written page to our brains, where the symbols are decoded and turned into words we recognize. That is why, if your child is struggling with reading, one of the first things you should consider is scheduling an eye exam.

“But the school already checked his vision,” you might say. “And it was fine.” It’s true that most schools do conduct vision screenings on their students. But this is usually to rule out the possibility of nearsightedness. The school nurse will ask each child to read the letters or symbols on a chart 20 feet away. If a child can read most of the letters, then his or her distance vision is probably good, and that child won’t need glasses for nearsightedness. Unfortunately, this type of vision screening does not detect many other vision problems, and these other vision problems are the ones most likely to cause difficulties when a child tries to read.

Possible vision problems

According to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, there are many “learning-related vision problems.” These can include problems with eye tracking, focus, form perception, visual memory and eye coordination. In a child, these problems can show up as blurred vision, reversing letters such as “b” and “d,” having trouble learning left from right, and mixing up words with similar beginnings.

Vision symptom checklist

Here is a checklist of vision symptoms to consider. Watch your child while he is trying to read or when he is using the computer. Do you notice any of these issues? If you do, tell your child’s doctor or teacher about what you have observed. This could help in the diagnosis of any vision problems your child might have.

  • After reading or using the computer, my child complains of a headache.
  • My child rubs his eyes often.
  • When reading, my child often skips lines.
  • My child’s eyes seem red or inflamed.
  • Bright lights hurt my child’s eyes.
  • My child covers one eye when he tries to read.
  • When trying to read, my child says he feels tired.
  • My child holds his book close to his face when he’s reading.
  • My child has to use his finger to follow the lines in a book.
  • My child can only read for a short time.

Even if you don’t notice any of these symptoms, if your child is struggling to read, it is important to have his vision checked by a professional to rule out any possible problems.

Help is available

If money is tight, vision health may not be at the top of your to-do list. Glasses and vision care may seem unaffordable. However, recent changes to our health care laws ensure that every child has access to vision screenings. And if your child needs glasses, but you can’t afford them, there are nonprofit organizations that may be able to step in and help.

  • The Affordable Care Act – You may have heard of this referred to as “Obamacare.” The act is designed to ensure that every American has access to affordable health care insurance. It also includes provisions for free preventive health services as long as you use an in-network provider. One of these free services is a vision screening for children.
  • Medicaid – Although benefits vary from state to state, eye exams and glasses for children are often included. Check with your state office to see if your child qualifies.
  • InfantSEE – InfantSEE is a program offered by the AOA Foundation. Optometrists who participate in the program offer a complete eye assessment for infants from six to 12 months of age. The assessment is free of charge.
  • Sight for Students and New Eyes  These are two nonprofit organizations that give vouchers to needy children for the purchase of glasses. Visit their websites to see if your child qualifies for a voucher.

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College of Optometrists in Visual Development, “Signs and Symptoms of Learning-Related Vision Problems”


New Eyes,