Visual Impediments to Learning in Alberta Schools

Educators and parents are talking about the Alberta Schools Vision Management Report Card.

Vision is the most critical of the learning senses and still it goes largely ignored in Alberta. This is for no reason other than it is simply just not a topic for discussion among educators, psychologists, even medical doctors. Yet, when people hear about the fundamental principles of how human vision works, and what it means to children’s development, learning, and behavior, there is generally quick agreement that not only are visual impediments widespread, we have been ignoring the problem for far too long.

The Alberta Schools Vision Management Report Card is a new way to help get information about vision to schools so they can help parents ensure children get the care they need.

I was honored to present to the wonderful teachers at NE Alberta Teachers Convention February 15, 2013 and speak about developmental optometry and visual impediments to learning. Over two sessions, we covered vision basics, some demonstrations of basic visual impediments to learning, and many practical hints and recommendations regarding troubled and otherwise normal children. Here’s a sample of some of the comments:

  • “One of the places that is not thought of in assessing children is visual assessment and the impact of a visual impediment upon/within the classroom. More teachers need to hear/see this.”
  • “Very good advice/knowledge shared. WOW! I didn’t know this stuff. Makes me wonder about of children I know. Do they have a vision impediment?”
  • “Thank you so much. Your session was very enlightening. You need to make your information more available and known to all schools and optometrists.”
  • “Excellent information session. Thank-you!”
  • “I found this session fascinating and very eye-opening. I believe the information will directly impact the students in my class. Thank-you!”
  • “Amazing! Changed my perspective on identifying reading disabilities.”
  • “Everyone should hear him!”
  • “I will encourage parents to have their children’s eye checked by an optometrist.”
  • “Very interesting. Hope to learn more at some time.”
  • “Excellent! We need this in Ft. Vermillion School Division.”

While I’m grateful for the very positive comments, they serve more as an indication of the great need for teacher education regarding vision and learning. It is true that from 15-35% of children in any given classroom will suffer silently with visual impediments to learning that impact directly upon their health, growth, and academic attainment. Visual impediments to learning also affect some ethnicities far more than others. It is also true that you will not notice the visual disturbances so much as the behaviors they cause:

  • reading and learning disturbances
  • health concerns related to headache, fatigue, muscle strain in the head, shoulders, and neck
  • disruptive behavior, emotional lability, moodiness, frustration
  • attention and impulsivity concerns

There are many causes of learning disabilities, but most of what I see in clinic that is titled ‘learning disability’ is fundamentally or at least partially of visual origin. Generally speaking, 1 of every 10 children I see while have some developmental shortfall that remains a permanent impairment to learning. For the remaining 90%, there is little doubt that some simple and occasionally more advanced visual developmental methods, starting with basic spectacles, go a very long way to overcome a lot of what we see as insurmountable obstacles.

Most importantly, it is critical that all children have the benefit of even a basic vision assessment, even if ‘the eyes appear healthy’. Remember: Most significant vision concerns remain hidden until discovered, and children will almost never complain about their vision.

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