ATA News

Keeping an eye out for student vision issues

A teacher sits with a student at a desk

The same student is acting out again, yet you’ve tried so many things to help them stay engaged with learning and productively interacting with the other students. It’s a common problem that may have little to do with classroom engagement and more to do with the fact that the student can’t see the front of the room or read the words written properly because of a vision issue. 

Research shows that one in four school-aged children has a vision problem. As 80 per cent of learning is visual for a child, an eye exam is an important first step to finding a solution and supporting student learning. 

Research also shows that many parents believe they would know if their child had a vision issue; however, these issues can be hard to spot, particularly if there is a problem in only one of the eyes. Further, children are often unaware they have a vision issue, as they believe what they are seeing is normal. It’s all they know.

For school-aged children, several different visual skills must work together so they can see and understand clearly:

  • Clear vision, both at a distance and up close
  • The ability to maintain focus accurately at any distance
  • Good focusing flexibility to allow rapid change from one distance to another
  • Binocular vision skills, including control of eye position, movement and tracking
  • Peripheral vision and eye–hand coordination

If any of these visual skills is lacking or impaired, the student will need to work harder to achieve the same level of learning as a student with unimpaired vision. Plus, schoolwork can place greater demands on a child’s visual skills, bringing to light a vision problem that was not apparent before school. That’s why watching for vision problem cues may help solve issues for the student. To identify vision issues, watch for the following:

  • Headaches or irritability
  • Avoiding near or distance work
  • Covering or rubbing the eyes
  • Tilting the head or unusual posture
  • Using a finger to maintain their place while reading
  • Losing their place while reading
  • Omitting or confusing small words when reading 
  • Performing below their potential

Even if a student is not complaining about their vision or has passed a vision screening, you can’t assume no issues exist. More than 43 per cent of children who have a vision or eye health problem can pass a basic vision screening. Only a comprehensive eye exam can properly assess eye and visual health.

The earlier these eye exams take place, the more likely the vision issue can be corrected. In fact, there are some vision issues that, if left uncorrected, can result in permanent vision loss by age 10. 

As a teaching professional, you are often on the front line of witnessing a student’s frustration. As a possible support to parents, suggesting an eye exam with an optometrist as a first step is prudent. Alberta Health coverage is available for all children from birth to 19 years for an eye exam. The Alberta Association of Optometrists can also send you copies of brochures to support parents in taking the first steps to ensure their child has the vision and eye health they deserve. ❚

Your Child’s Vision and Eye Health and Children’s Vision & Effects of Electronic Screens 

Brochures are available for free. For copies, please email