This blog post earned its author a $500 Travel Grant for the COVD 2018 Annual Meeting! Students and residents–the application period for 2019 is open thru November 30th, 2018! Apply now and see your COVD Family in Kansas City next April 9-13!

by Dr. Alison Zhou (MCPHS ’18)

Blurry vision, diplopia, headaches, words running together while reading, and difficulty copying from the board; these are just a few common symptoms of someone with a visual system dysfunction, especially in children. This is why it is so important for children as early as 6 months to be seen by optometrists who can detect and treat these vision problems. At a young age, their visual system is much more adaptable and treatable which prevents visual complications in the future that may affect their education or lifestyle.

Dr. W. C. Maples, a reputable leader in the optometric profession, conducted a study titled Visual factors that significantly impact academic performance, which looked how a child’s visual system can affect their academic performance. The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) was the standardized test chosen for this study and it evaluated students from first to third grade to take the test based on their academic level. It consists of 21 subcategories such as language, mathematical concepts, and reading. Popular belief originally suggested that race and socio-economic statuses were the best predictors of a child’s academic performance, where the latter related to a lower academic performance. From this study, Dr. Maples found that race and socio-economic statuses were ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, as best predictors of academic success in ITBS. So what were the best predictors?

A child’s visual component played a larger role in assessing one’s academic performances. Visual motor skills, commonly known as eye-hand coordination, include many day-to-day activities for children such as writing, coloring and catching a ball. When the visual and motor systems are working together as a team, it makes a task much simpler to complete.

The following are a couple examples of tests that optometrists can have a child perform in office to determine if there’s a visual motor deficit:

  • The Wold Sentence Copy is a visual motor test where a sentence is copied as quickly and accurately as possible. During the task, the optometrist pays close attention to the child’s posture, spacing, number of fixations and level of concentration.
  • Visual Motor Integration Test is a test that consists of a series of 24 symbols where the patient is asked to reproduce the next sequential symbol. The test begins with lines and progresses in difficulty to geometric shapes. In order to successfully complete this task, the patient must be able to discriminate objects based on their individual characteristics, which becomes important in understanding mathematics in the future.

In the study, an optometrist periodically performed a number of visual tests in addition to the ones mentioned above over a period of three years on children from first to third grade. The results indicated that both The Wold Sentence Copy and Visual Motor Integration Test provided the biggest indicator in academic performance.

Standardized tests were implemented to allow schools to recognize their strengths and weaknesses in its academic system. This research provides strong evidence for teachers and parents to more critically consider the impact of a deficient visual component in children who perform poorly on tests and in class in addition to intelligence, race, or socio-economic status. It further emphasizes the importance of yearly comprehensive eye exams with an optometrist to detect for any visual complication that a child may have and to begin treatment early so they can perform and learn at their highest potential.

In most cases, visual deficits can be treated through a pair of glasses, contact lenses and even vision therapy. Vision therapy can simply be thought of physiotherapy for your eyes. It includes a set of structured activities designed by an optometrist who incorporates visual and mind-body organization to allow patients to use their visual system more effectively.

Learn more about Dr. W.C. Maples, OD, MS

Dr. W. C. Maples is a COVD fellow who has made an extraordinary impact to optometry through visual development and vision therapy. In 2000, Dr. W.C. Maples was presented with the prestigious A.M. Skeffington Award for his contribution to behavioral vision specializing in children’s vision and vision therapy and has inspired many optometrists to pursue research in this field of study. His dedication and research led him to become a professor at the Northeastern State University- Oklahoma College of Optometry for over 25 years where he developed the vision therapy protocol for the school clinic. He was the co-founder of the NSUCO Oculomotor Test used to grade a patient’s ability, accuracy and degree of head movement in performing a task, which is widely used today both in practice and numerous research papers. He is not only a great mentor and leader to the optometric profession through serving on various optometric associations but provides great resources for optometrists to use when educating patients.


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