Eyes on the Ball
By Susan Walton
Living in Australia is synonymous with the great outdoors - riding a bike, catching or kicking a ball in most regions throughout the year.
What does your child do when it comes to games? Do they actively engage, are they easily distracted or do they avoid becoming involved? The latter two categories may be as a result of lacking visual skills. Have a look at their timing when catching. Reaching to catch too early, or being hit by the ball (therefore too late), is often the case when the aiming of the eyes is poor.
Some of us will have youngsters who appear to have been born with a ball and have the natural talents to progress onto the sporting field. Others will be encouraged to join and manage to develop average enough abilities to stay in the game with their peers and enjoy. However there's another significantly sized group, where ball skills don't come so easily.
This is where we need to look at their visual skills, commonly known as eye hand co-ordination.
Children with poor motor coordination are unaware of where they are in space and where other things are in relation to them.
Playing a team sport can present not only the challenge of the ball as a target to catch or kick, but also awareness of others on the field.
The task of watching the ball is also difficult for these children due to poorly developed control of eye movements.
Until about 7 years of age, young eyes are still developing their teamwork, including accurate alignment of the eyes on the target, changing focus as the target moves closer or further and accurate control of eye movements.
If you notice that your child is struggling with sporting activities it is wise to have their eyes tested.
Sometimes glasses are required to balance what the eyes see and allow them to work together.
If the eyes can see well but are not working well together, then vision therapy can be used to 'educate' the visual system in the many areas of functioning that are required during sporting tasks.
Vision therapy is a process where regular one on one sessions with a trained therapist guides the child through a range of activities which are then practiced at home to improve their visual skills.
The benefits for these children in play, and sport can also be seen in the classroom as better concentration - improved reading and writing skills, finishing of work, and greater confidence.
About Susan Walton
Susan has been an Optometrist for over thirty 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 specializes 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 1991. Susan is also the Sports Vision Consultant to the Hunter Academy of Sport. Her daughter Hannah has 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.
For more than 20 years Susan has been involved with a worldwide organisation called Special Olympics as the Australian Director for Opening Eyes - where free eye testing and eyewear (glasses and sporting goggles) for these athletes is provided.
Support the next Special Olympics National Junior Games in Newcastle from 9-12 Dec 2012.
Susan K Walton
B Optom FACBO
P: 02 4926 4799