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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 3 - May/June 2011

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Vision Impacts on Language

By Susan K Walton

If your child has already been diagnosed with some type of language disorder, or if you are simply noticing at home that their speech development is slower and starting to make you ask questions and wonder if something is wrong, then it may be important for you to consider getting their eyes checked. In fact all our senses (eyes, ears and touch) are required as well developed functions which is then integrate (or work well together) for our kids to reach their full potential in school and then in life.

Vision helps in language development by identifying objects and people for naming, and allows a child to copy lip and mouth movements to form sounds and learn speech.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A child's mind that learns to utilise vision can learn non-phonetic spelling of words through visual memory, rather than using spelling rules and verbal/auditory memory. Higher levels of visual processing include the ability to create visual pictures in the mind's eye such as seeing a movie play in your mind while reading words in a book, which is important for reading comprehension.

Many children with poor eye movement skills and lack of visual dominance have trouble with complicated verbal instructions and express themselves poorly verbally. They are then often diagnosed with receptive and/or expressive language problems.

Poorly developed visual thinking skills are often the cause of these language problems. These children attempt to remember spoken words in sequence rather than the more efficient visual thinking process of converting what they hear into imagery so that they can store the information and retrieve it when they need it.

Vision is important for social and emotional skills: smiling, eye contact, as well as reading facial expressions and body language.
Many children may be already diagnosed with disorders such as developmental delays, ADD/ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder have visual skills problems and sensory integration problems as part of their difficulties functioning in school and life.

Firstly a behavioural eye examination is needed to look at ability to see clearly, focus eyes well and use the two eyes together, giving good binocular vision and good eye movement control. If any problems are found, then spectacles may be an option either for full time wear or only during visually concentrated tasks such as all school work and computer use.

Many children can also benefit from a program of vision therapy, which is a progressive method of retraining how the brain, eyes and body work together. Therapy is individually programmed and delivered, and is designed to target specific areas of visual dysfunction. Vision Therapy may be used to improve: eye movements (tracking or following with the eyes); visual attention (fixation and use of peripheral vision), eye teaming (ability to point both eyes accurately at the same time), focusing (ability to change focus from far to close) and visual processing, and the integration of visual information with auditory and language information as well as tactile and body information. A child's emotions, confidence and behaviour can become more stable through vision therapy. Vision therapy teaches a child to become more flexible and allows them to learn to adapt to new and different situations.

Failure to acquire good visual processing skills is a reliable predictor of future academic performance. This is because vision is the dominant sensory process. Even a phonetic or phonic approach to reading requires the ability to hold visual attention (look at things), move the eyes quickly and easily and visually recognise letters and words. Fatigue of the eye muscles that hold visual attention is the reason why some children start out reading well in the early grades, only to start failing after grade two or three. The application of spectacles and/or a program of vision therapy can assist.
Our trained Vision Therapist works one-on-one with children once a week in our specially equipped vision therapy room for blocks of ten weeks at a time. However the key to success comes with the home practice sessions (five other days a week for half an hour) under the supervision of parents. Let me say that again - practice...practice... practice.

A tip for parents to encourage links between vision and language...At the end of the day before bed, have your child tell you about his/her day and see if they can get a mental image in detail of what they experienced for the day. For example, what the child ate for lunch or the clothes that they wore. This builds visual memory and visualisation.

So vision therapy is actually hard work to implement and complete in our busy family lives, but there are many families out there who can testify to the benefits for their kids. The improvements are obviously in the kids looking skills, but commonly the results include happier and more confident kids with improved eye contact, social skills and language abilities.

Biography

Susan has been an Optometrist for over 30 years and in her own practice in the Newcastle CBD for 25 years. She became a Fellow of the Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists in 1988 and specialises in behavioural optometry working with children with learning difficulties, people with special needs and sports vision, as well as general optometry. She is the Australian Director for the Special Olympics Opening Eyes program, volunteering both here and overseas since 1995. Susan is also the Sports Vision Consultant to the Hunter Academy of Sport. Her daughter Hannah has just joined her and is in training as a Vision Therapist so they can work together on programs for children (and adults) to remediate visual function difficulties (like eye movements and convergence) as well as visual perception and sensory integration problems.

More Information

Susan Walton
B Optom FABCO
245 King St.
Newcastle NSW 2300
P: 02 4926 4799
www.susanwaltonoptometrist.com.au

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