Children with IEPs — school-based Individualized Educational Programs — are more likely to experience problems with their eyes, especially their visual skills. Visual skills include the eye’s ability to focus and track and work as a team, but these and many other visual difficulties aren’t detected in traditional vision screenings.
Children with IEPs may pass the standard 20/20 sight test administered in schools. However, the results of these basic screenings aren’t a reliable indication of a child’s ability to perform activities involving close vision, such as reading, writing or solving puzzles.
Even a child with 20/20 vision may have visual deficits that need to be treated, such as lazy eyes or difficulties with visual processing.
While basic school vision screenings assess eyesight, only a comprehensive developmental eye exam can assess visual system deficits or dysfunction that can impede performance in school and while playing sports.
Why is a Comprehensive Eye Exam Crucial for Children with IEPs?
Many children diagnosed with a learning disability may actually have an undiagnosed visual deficit that is causing their reading and learning difficulties—or at least contributing to them.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 80% of children with reading difficulties had vision problems, compared to children who read at grade level.
In a 2012 Ohio State study, 69% of children with IEPs passed traditional eyesight tests. The reason: basic eyesight tests evaluate a child’s ability to see distant letters and objects, but don’t assess how well they see near objects or letters at reading distance, such as in a workbook.
The researchers recommended that children with IEPs undergo a comprehensive eye exam, which includes an assessment of their visual skills.
What Does a Comprehensive Eye Exam Assess?
A comprehensive eye exam evaluates three main types of visual skills:
- Binocular vision - the eyes’ ability to work together as a team
- Oculomotor - the eyes’ ability to track objects and move effectively
- Accommodation - the eyes’ ability to change focus from near to far
A comprehensive eye exam can detect the following conditions and more:
- Convergence insufficiency - the eyes’ inability to work together to focus on nearby objects
- Strabismus/eye turn - each eye points in a different direction due to eye misalignment
- Amblyopia/lazy eye - one eye is considerably weaker than the other
- Accommodative dysfunction - an eye-focusing problem
What Does a Comprehensive Eye Exam Involve?
A comprehensive eye exam is designed to measure more than visual acuity and can evaluate overall eye health, diagnose eye conditions and test how your eyes work together. It may include the following:
- Visual acuity - tests the clarity of sight
- Cover test - evaluates individual eye functioning
- Slit lamp - examines the front of the eye
- Pupil dilation - looks at eye health
- Retinoscopy - measures refractive errors
- Refraction - assesses for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism
- Visual skills - tests how well the eyes function together
How Vision Therapy Can Help IEP Children with Vision Problems
Vision therapy is a customized program of eye exercises that improves visual skills, strengthens eye muscles as well as the way the eyes and brain communicate and work together. The activities can be integrated into an IEP program to suit a child’s individualized learning program and visual needs.
Vision therapy helps kids improve their vision because it trains their eyes to:
- Track - fixate on objects visually
- Team - ensuring the eyes work together
- Focus - see objects comfortably and clearly all the time
If your child has an IEP, schedule a comprehensive vision exam by contacting Eye Health Centre in St. Albert today.
Our practice serves patients from St. Albert, Edmonton, Spruce Grove, and Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta and surrounding communities.
Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Sophie Jobin
Q: How can vision problems affect a student's educational performance?
A: If your child struggles to read or keep up with their classmates, they may have an undetected visual problem. Reading fluency and comprehension are dependent on the strength of visual skills— especially focusing, binocular vision, convergence, saccades, and visual fixation. A customized program of vision therapy can help strengthen these lagging skills and improve their academic performance.
Q: How do vision problems affect behavior?
A: Behavioral problems that can arise due to vision problems include hyperactivity, inattentiveness, lack of motivation, refusal or hesitation to do homework, poor reading comprehension, skips lines or words when reading, and frequent eye rubbing and head tilting.
If a child displays any of the above symptoms, call Eye Health Centre in St. Albert to schedule a functional visual evaluation.