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The Relationship Between Vision & Learning

The Relationship Between Vision & Learning

Published: 08/15/2007 by Laura Niemi, B.G. S., A.S,

» Health and Wellness

Have you ever used the phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” If you have, you may understand more than you realize about how vision affects learning. This phrase acknowledges that in our minds, seeing is the same as understanding.

Sight is our dominant sense and our primary means of gathering information in learning. In fact, 80% of what we learn comes through our visual system so vision problems can have a profound effect on how we learn.


When children literally can’t see what’s in front of him or her, learning stops being fun and starts being frustrating. The key is to be able to identify potential vision problems accurately, and then take remedial action to correct them.


The visual system is about much more than 20/20 sight; it has three components: sightedness (refraction), visual skills and perceptual skills (visual processing). If there is a delay in any or all of these areas, learning can be much more challenging and frustrating for children.


Sightedness is a physical condition of the eye and is present from birth. Visual and perceptual skills are neurologically controlled and develop during a child’s formative years. Weaknesses or problems with sight will be detected through annual eye exams with an optometrist and can be corrected with glasses or contacts. If sight is the only problem, corrective eyewear will positively affect a child’s learning within a matter of weeks. If learning continues to be a struggle, however, it may indicate problems with visual or perceptual skills that need to be investigated and remediated.

There are three basic visual skills that impact learning potential: ocular motility (tracking-pursuits and saccades), focusing (amplitude and facility) and binocularity (eye teaming skills).

Tracking is eye movement control either with a moving target requiring smooth, accurate pursuit movements (necessary for sports as well as reading) or saccades which is controlled movement from point to point - particularly for activities like reading where eyes must move smoothly and accurately from word - to-word across and down a page of print.

Focusing involves the ability to shift and sustain clear vision as required for a particular task. For a child to concentrate on a near task such as reading for any length of time, he or she has to be able to sustain clear vision without experiencing blur or discomfort. To copy accurately from page to page or from board to page, the focusing system must efficiently adjust from near to far.

Binocularity, also known as eye teaming, is the ability of the two eyes to work together as a synchronized team. The human visual system is designed so that the paired eyes and their reciprocating muscles can work to such a high degree of teaming that the two eyes perform as if they were one.

Deficiencies in eye teaming may result in strabismus (one eye turns in or out), double vision, suppression (the brain blocks out the information from one eye), reduced depth perception, reduced attention span, or the use of excessive effort with minimal academic accomplishment.

Visual perception, or visual processing, is the third component of the visual system is essential for sorting out and understanding the information received through the eyes and includes: visual motor integration (eye-hand co-ordination, sports vision), visual form perception (visual memory, visual form constancy, visual closure and visual figure ground) and laterality skills (directionality awareness and letter reversals).

Reading and math are two subjects where accurate perception and understanding of spatial relationships are very important. Both subjects rely heavily on the use of symbols (letters, numbers, shapes, punctuation signs), and the ability to perceive objects in relation to other objects.

A child with perceptual difficulties may be unable to see words and numbers as separate units. He or she may become confused with directionality in terms of reading direction (top to bottom, left to right), or be confused by letter/number orientation and of similarly shaped letters, such as “b and d”.

Learning is a lifelong adventure and involves many cognitive and neurological processes. When a child is not able to learn effectively, there’s a good chance that a problem with the visual system is present. If that is the case, early investigation, detection and remediation is vital for that child to overcome the problem and reach his or her full learning potential.

Vision therapy can significantly improve the visual abilities of children and adults. It typically involves regular therapy sessions conducted by a qualified vision therapist working in association with a developmental or behavioral optometrist. The sessions are supplemented with structured activities performed on a daily basis at home. The activities are based on the child’s individual visual difficulties and involve parental participation.

A multidisciplinary approach involving parents, educators, eye care practitioners and psychologists is most effective. The role of the optometrists and vision therapists within the team is to help overcome any visual or perceptual problems that interfere with effective, enjoyable learning. Once these are addressed the student is better prepared to respond to and enjoy the adventure that is learning. <>