Children navigate more complex learning environments now than they did twenty to thirty years ago. The expectations seem to be higher but our tools for assisting children are also more numerous and more readily available.

Imagine a student who is inattentive and poorly behaved in class. Your first thought might be that the child has a learning disability. But you also might want to consider other possibilities.

Vision

Vision and learning are intimately related. More than 80% of learning occurs through information that is presented visually. It is clear that vision problems can lead to learning difficulties. How efficiently we learn to see will effect how well we do at school and in today’s society, how well we do in our chosen career.

If your child appears to be seeing well but has never had a comprehensive eye examination with a behavioural optometrist, do not assume all is well. A child who struggles at school may have an undiagnosed vision problem. Most children are far-sighted and can see well in the distance. These children appear to see well and pass basic vision screening tests. Moderate to high hyperopia (far-sightedness) can lead to poor concentration at school, fatigue while reading and slow working speed. Poor visual skills lead to fatigue, losing place when reading and poor comprehension. Spectacles for reading and eye exercises (vision therapy) may be highly beneficial to improve all aspects of visual performance.

Hearing

Hearing is critical to speech and language development, communication and learning. Hearing loss causes delays in development of speech and language, and those delays then lead to learning problems, often resulting in poor school performance. Unfortunately, since poor academic performance is often accompanied by inattention and sometimes poor behavior, children with hearing loss are often misidentified as having learning disabilities such as ADD and ADHD. A child who is struggling in school, especially if there is a family history of hearing loss or has had recurring ear infections should be seen by a hearing care professional for an evaluation.

When a child struggles at school, examining the senses may be good place to start!