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By: Hudi Schweky

Billy keeps losing the place when he reads. He hates reading and concludes that he must not be smart because reading is hard for him, while all his friends read with ease. Billy really has great reading comprehension; he just has trouble with vertical visual tracking, which causes him to skip lines while reading.

Leo cannot catch a ball during recess and thinks he is the worst at sports. In reality, Leo has good reflexes and coordination. The problem he faces is that he has a hard time judging depth perception (under convergence)
and misjudges the distance of the ball.

 Reading, writing, sports, skiing, dancing, walking, focusing. All these activities rely on intact vision. Understanding how vision affects everyday activities can make a huge difference to your child’s life.

The visual system is fascinating! There is the actual mechanical working of the eye, how the eyes work motorically. Then there is visual perception, which is how the eyes and brain interpret the visual information.

People commonly assume that if a child has a visual acuity of 20/20, he has perfect vision. The definition of 20/20 visual acuity just means that he can see clearly from 20 feet away, independently, from each eye.

The other things to look at after looking at visual acuity include eye-hand coordination, eye tracking, eye teaming, depth perception, posture, accommodation, visual attention, and central and peripheral vision.

A child can have perfect visual acuity independently in each eye, but he may have challenges using his eyes together. Challenges using both eyes together can result in double vision or limited depth perception. A child may be able to see great fromup close but very little from far away. He may have good central vision but extremely poor peripheral vision.

OTs works with developmental optometrists, and at times, vision therapists to address these issues. If you suspect that your child has trouble processing visual information, it is a good idea for him to be seen by a developmental optometrist.

The visual system like any other system in our body can improve with exercises and proper care.

Here are some strategies
to help our kids strengthen their eyes:

Eye Relaxation!– To help vision improve, it is important to relax the upper body and head, from the shoulders up to the eyes.

•Show your child how to relax his shoulders and neck by rolling his shoulders frontward and backward and gently turning his neck to the right shoulder and then back to the left shoulder.

• Gently massage around his eyes, face, and head to relieve eye tension.

Ball Tapping!– Instruct your child to tap a ball suspended by a string, with a stick, 20 times. This activity is great for eye tracking and eye hand coordination. As the child has to carefully follow the ball with his eyes (eye tracking) and use his eyes and hands in synchrony to hit the ball (eye hand coordination).

Cat and Cow!– Working on improving posture and balance is important for eye tracking. Poor balance makes it harder to track a visual target. Cat and cow yoga poses are great for developing depth perception and posture.

• Instruct your child to assume a cow pose on all fours while looking all the way up at the ceiling. Then instruct your child to assume a cat pose on all fours while looking down at the buttons on his shirt.

Looking into the Distance!– Eye teaming is the ability for the eyes to work together as a team to create a 3D image. Depth perception helps us to judge distance and locate objects in space. Accommodation is when the lens constricts or dilates to accommodate different visual distances.

Eye teaming, depth perception, and accommodation are developed through experience and practice. In general, outdoor activities are good for developing these skills. Instruct your child to looking into the distance, while outdoors, for a fewminutes a day.

Squatting while playing bean bag toss also helps improve
depth perception.

Rainbow Clap!– Central vision picks up the visual details, peripheral vision sees the bigger picture. A child who has a hard time with peripheral vision may bump into things a lot and have a hard time navigating through his environment.

To work on improving peripheral vision, instruct your child to look straight ahead while clapping his hands to the left and then bring his hands over his head and clapping his hands to the right.

Hudi Schweky, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with extensive training in Sensory and Reflex Integration. She utilizes a child-centered, movement and play based approach to
assist children with autism, learning challenges, developmental delays, and attention issues.
She is also the founder of the Theraflex, LLC in Lakewood, NJ.