• Sad child in front of the class

How Vision Problems Can Impact Your Child’s Social Development

We spend a lot of time on RYV talking about the effects that vision can have on the day-to-day lives of older people. Presbyopia, glaucoma, cataracts, AMD – all are extremely common, severe eye disorders, and all are much more likely to affect silver citizens than they are children.

Some­times though, visu­al prob­lems can have even greater impact on those young enough to still be devel­op­ing phys­i­cal­ly and, as we’ll be dis­cussing today, social­ly.

One of the best sources on this often-over­looked niche of visu­al health is a 2012 whitepa­per pub­lished by France’s Vision Impact Insti­tute. We’ll look through some of their find­ings and add in a cou­ple obser­va­tions of our own.

A Wide­spread Prob­lem

One of the first facts that we have to bring up when dis­cussing child­hood visu­al health is how incred­i­bly com­mon eye prob­lems are for younger peo­ple. Sources cit­ed by the whitepa­per esti­mate that 14 per­cent of North Amer­i­can chil­dren have uncor­rect­ed visu­al dis­or­ders.

Believe it or not, this high num­ber actu­al­ly puts the US and Cana­da well ahead of many coun­tries. Chi­na and India in par­tic­u­lar have enor­mous rates of untreat­ed vision prob­lems; the same study pins the per­cent­age of chil­dren with these issues at 41 per­cent for India, and a whop­ping 49 per­cent for Chi­na.

Europe, on the oth­er hand, tends to have incred­i­bly low, sin­gle dig­it rates, except­ing Rus­sia, which can claim a 42 per­cent esti­mat­ed rate.

How Vision Prob­lems Can Impact Your Child’s Social Devel­op­men­tA pri­ma­ry rea­son for this – and one we have dis­cussed before – is that child­hood vision tests tend to be non-com­pre­hen­sive, and are often run through schools with a nurse or sim­i­lar pro­fes­sion­al act­ing as point of care. They’re par­tic­u­lar­ly apt to miss dis­or­ders that don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly affect visu­al acu­ity. Stra­bis­mus, or crossed eyes, and sim­i­lar con­di­tions won’t always impede a child’s abil­i­ty to read a let­ter chart, and require spe­cial­ized test­ing to catch.

The great­est dan­ger of sub­par test­ing is that it sets chil­dren up for a tough start to their aca­d­e­m­ic careers, which can eas­i­ly snow­ball into big­ger prob­lems. Poor grades in ele­men­tary school may not count for much, but the extreme dif­fi­cul­ties that many chil­dren with low vision face only wors­en as mate­r­i­al becomes more advanced and reliant on pre­vi­ous learn­ing.

Class­room Dif­fi­cul­ties

Most of the stud­ies cov­ered in the Institute’s report con­cerned the intense dif­fi­cul­ties that chil­dren with impaired vision face at school.

Poor vision can be a night­mare for stu­dents try­ing to make their way in a heav­i­ly read­ing-ori­ent­ed school sys­tem. Near­sight­ed­ness can make it impos­si­ble for a stu­dent to ful­ly focus on a black­board. Stra­bis­mus in par­tic­u­lar is noto­ri­ous for turn­ing book assign­ments into headache-induc­ing crawls for affect­ed chil­dren.

These, and many oth­er undi­ag­nosed dis­or­ders, can severe­ly dam­age a child’s odds of aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess. One study, cour­tesy of Brazil, found that chil­dren with sub-20/20 visu­al acu­ity were three times more like­ly to fail a grade than their peers, while a team of Aus­tri­an researchers saw that chil­dren with visu­al dis­or­ders spent 30 per­cent more time on class­work than those with­out, and were more prone to make errors.

As you might guess, aca­d­e­m­ic strug­gles don’t make life any eas­i­er for grow­ing chil­dren. Researchers have even worked to find a link between low vision and delin­quen­cy.

US researchers even found that 70 per­cent of first-time offend­ers had vision prob­lems of some sort – though it’s worth not­ing that there’s plen­ty of con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing this par­tic­u­lar top­ic.

Whether or not you believe that an undi­ag­nosed need for glass­es can give rise to crim­i­nal behav­ior, the rest of the evi­dence is unsur­pris­ing­ly clear: kids with poor vision often strug­gle to make their way through school.

Social Dif­fi­cul­ties

A good deal of the emo­tion­al and social dif­fi­cul­ties detailed by the Institute’s whitepa­per are tied into aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance, but that’s not quite the whole sto­ry.

Anoth­er key met­ric of social suc­cess is (even if it’s a bit soul­less) career suc­cess. Chil­dren with low vision tend to strug­gle in this cat­e­go­ry as well. One Sin­ga­pore­an and one US study con­curred – the gap in earn­ings between chil­dren with myopia (Sin­ga­pore) or ambly­opia (US) was absolute­ly enor­mous, exac­er­bat­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties that low vision had already caused.

Also worth not­ing is how impor­tant vision is for ear­ly recog­ni­tion of emo­tion­al cues. Facial expres­sion is a key means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing mood or intent, and chil­dren with low vision may have dif­fi­cul­ty rec­og­niz­ing fine detail cru­cial to estab­lish­ing emo­tion­al con­text.

While there hasn’t been much research in this area involv­ing chil­dren, at least one study has shown that adults with low vision can have dif­fi­cul­ty in pick­ing up on facial expres­sion.

A 2008 study from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lille in France showed that adults suf­fer­ing from age-relat­ed mac­u­lar degen­er­a­tion were less like­ly than a con­trol group to notice expres­sion on a face. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, when they did notice an expres­sion, they gen­er­al­ly cat­e­go­rized it cor­rect­ly.

Again, adults with AMD aren’t exact­ly anal­o­gous to chil­dren, but it’s not hard to imag­ine some of the same dif­fi­cul­ties mak­ing del­i­cate social inter­ac­tion tricky for a grow­ing child, espe­cial­ly giv­en how reliant extreme­ly young chil­dren with lim­it­ed vocab­u­lar­ies are on non-ver­bal cues.

Head­ing Out­doors

As any­one who grew up with low vision can tes­ti­fy, poor eye­sight can make sports much more dif­fi­cult than they might oth­er­wise be.

You’ll find plen­ty of empir­i­cal sources dis­cuss this. Tra­di­tion­al recre­ation­al activ­i­ties aren’t designed with low vision in mind, and chil­dren with undi­ag­nosed dif­fi­cul­ties can quick­ly find them­selves frus­trat­ed and sev­er­al steps behind their peers.

With a diag­no­sis comes some more con­crete steps. Bet­sy Zaborows­ki, an exec­u­tive direc­tor at the nation­al insti­tute for the blind, empha­sized the impor­tance of recre­ation and sports for blind chil­dren, or those with low vision.

Zaborows­ki specif­i­cal­ly rec­om­mends “Karate, judo, swim­ming, and wrestling” as options suit­ed to chil­dren deal­ing with low vision. What­ev­er the case may be, the mes­sage is con­stant: chil­dren need activ­i­ties and those with poor eye­sight often have to search to find one that they can excel in. Find­ing it can be a strug­gle, but options exist and are well worth the trou­ble to join.


January 19th, 2017|Comments Off on How Vision Problems Can Impact Your Child’s Social Development

About the Author:

Born in Connecticut and raised in Upstate New York , Dr. Stetson graduated Cum Laude from Colgate University in New York, and then earned an MD degree with honors at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He distinguished himself again in residency at the Albany Medical Center, where he obtained the highest percentile in the Ophthalmology Knowledge Assessment Examinations. Dr. Stetson has performed more than 50,000 refractive surgeries and has been on staff at Diamond Vision since 2004, before becoming Medical Director in 2006.


If you would like to schedule a free consultation or ask one of our amazing staff a quick question, text "Diamond Ready" to (917) 881-3938 between 9am-6pm (M-F) and we will be here to help you!