The Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area recently hosted a successful training on the relationship between vision and cognition. This is information that is fundamental and far reaching, but isn’t so frequently discussed. Here are some of the important points that we learned and want to share:
• “Sight” is the ability to see, “vision” is the ability to interpret and understand information that comes through the eyes.
• One can have 20/20 acuity and still have vision related challenges.
• Vision is the dominant sense: 80% of what you perceive, comprehend and remember depends on the efficiency of the visual system. [visionandlearning.org]
• Just a few of the potential visional challenges that can affect individuals include:
o Eye movement problems – where the eyes might lose their place or jump around.
o Eye teaming problems (binocularity) – when the eyes are not working well together; can interfere with comprehension and special relations.
o Focusing problems – on single or multiple planes.
o Depth perception problems.
o Eye-hand coordination problems.
o Visual form perception problems – can contribute to fine motor and spatial challenges.
o Eye health – it’s also important to check individuals with Down syndrome may been known to have a higher rate of tear duct abnormalities and cataracts.
• Children with Down syndrome will rarely tell someone that their vision is blurry, eyes are hurting or that they get headaches from reading. Educators and parents can help watch for signs that might indicate a visual problem in one or more of the above mentioned areas. For example:
o Tearing, squinting or crossing eyes
o Head movement with reading or visually scanning information
o Re-reading or skipping lines during reading
o Avoidance or apprehension around tasks that require 3 dimensional special awareness (i.e. stepping off of a curve, catching a ball)
• A “Visual Efficiency Exam” (VEE) by a skilled Developmental (or Behavioral) Optometrist can assess and diagnose visual efficiency challenges. This assessment tool assesses the way the brain interprets visual information, not just the sight acuity. All students with Down syndrome should have regular eye exams.
• Visually related learning problems can often be remediated – there are things to do to improve vision and to make adaptations in the classroom. A few basic examples:
o Enlarge print.
o Keep focus point on same plane (usually near). Don’t have situations that cause the student to repeatedly shift their plane of focus from far (board) to near (paper).
o Embed visual perceptual activities, i.e. mazes and puzzles.
When identififed, most vision problems can be treated. See and evision success.