Vision and Learning: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

 

Heike Schuhmacher, MD

Vision and Learning does an excellent job of explaining the complexities of vision. Dr. Heike Schuhmacher manages to do this with a light touch aided by wonderful illustrations. She is a unique clinician and a special person whose practice focuses on developmental pediatrics. I got to know Heike from the annual meetings of The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). She is the first pediatrician to become a Fellow of COVD and has integrated her knowledge of vision and optometric vision therapy into the care of her patients. There are some fortunate children and families in the area of Germany in which she practices.

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I agree with Dr. Leonard J. Press who states, “Whether you read the book from cover to cover, or cherry pick your favorite sections, you will learn how undiagnosed vision problems cause learning difficulties and what you can do to unlock the potential of children like Mario and Laura.” This book is an excellent source to learn more about the following.

            Vision is the basis for successful learning. Seeing well is not something we are born with; it is a brain function that develops through learning. In other words, we can learn to see better at any time and to make better us of our visual functions.

            Analyzing spoken language phonologically requires a considerable capacity for abstraction. After all, children must learn to use a writing system that dissects spoken language into its smallest functional units and represents these symbolically.

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            Correctly and reliably identifying the position of graphical symbols in space requires an abstraction that actually goes against children’s prior experience of the world.

            Brain function works within a very small window of time of only a few seconds, and after that time the information stored is deleted from working memory, whether it is processed further or not, to make the working memory available again.

            When children do not enjoy having stories read to them, this may be a sign that they do not have the necessary memory abilities rather than any issue with attention.

Gisella and Ben reading

            Because perception and eye movements are so closely interrelated, we tend to experience them as if they were one process.

            Eye movements must coordinate micromovements that adapt to the line of text read. This movement pattern is not innate but must be learned. When children with visual problems try to read, their eye movements often do not come to rest at points that match the segmentation of printed words. As a result, these children get confused because the letter combination where their gaze lands does not make sense.

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            Seeing is an active and intelligent process that involves the construction and interpretation of images by our eyes and our brain.

            Children whose figure-ground perception is poorly developed find it difficult to deal with “crowded” worksheets.

            To make perfect vision possible, our body must be motionless in some situations, must have a stable equilibrium and must have well controlled motor functions.

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            We develop stable and secure equilibrium in our bodily movements when our head movements no longer cause reflexive changes in our muscle tone (persistent primitive reflexes).

            Because we have two eyes, vast areas of our brain are dedicated to the work of constantly and perfectly adjusting the position of two “precision cameras” – namely, our two open eyes.

            Seeing is a learned brain function. Recognizing and naming what we see is possible because our sense of sight is connected with other regions of the brain.

            Since practically all individual components of our diagnostic process deal with brain functions that are learned and developed, they can be taught and improved through optometric vision therapy. Like vision itself, optometric vision therapy is based on learning processes.

            It is only when children can focus their eyes together easily and without complaining of tiredness that they can work comfortably for longer periods of time in the range of vision used for reading, writing, and solving arithmetic problems.  

 

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