How vision affects your child's learning

Words: Joanne Kalil

(First printed in the  Simbithi Scene Magazine Winter 2023 Edition  . Reprinted with permission.)

As a parent, you are naturally keen to give your child every advantage to support their learning. The vast majority of information we typically take in is visual and your child’s vision plays a key role in their education. 

Parents are often on the lookout for signs of their little ones not being able to see clearly on the board, for reading or during sport. Sometimes more difficult to spot are the more subtle aspects of their vision, which play such an important role in learning.

The young boy who sees clearly, still needs to shift his focus accurately when copying off the board and maintain his focus comfortably while doing their maths homework. After 5 or 10 minutes of reading, can they still easily focus on their work?

The little girl learning to play netball, needs to catch the eye of her teammate wanting to pass her the ball, while also having good enough depth perception to aim at the net, when scoring a goal. How well do her eyes work together on the court?

You are trying to develop a love of reading in your grade 2 child: is losing their place when trying to coordinate their eyes distracting them from the story they are reading? A clever 8 year old may cope well, hiding the fact that their vision isn’t as clear and comfortable as it should be.

It may surprise you to realise that vision and binocularity develop over the years. Having similar input from both eyes at a young age allows the two eyes to work well together, establishing balanced and clear vision for when your little one is older. 

Visual comfort plays an important role too: the pre-teen with itchy, irritated eyes may be less inclined to focus visually on their work than they would otherwise. Bringing all of this together, your child needs to understand, process and remember what they are seeing.

Your child’s annual comprehensive binocular visual assessment considers all of the aspects of vision for your child’s learning and can catch issues early on. This helps to build a foundation for clear, comfortable, single binocular vision which contributes so richly to our lives at every age.

Protecting My Family's Eyes During Sport: Tips for Parents

Words: Joanne Kalil

(First printed in the Simbithi Scene Magazine Spring Edition 2023  . Reprinted with permission.)

Here in KZN, with our year-round beautiful weather, we get to enjoy so many outdoor activities and sports. For each of us, whether we wear prescription glasses or not, protecting our eyes should be an important priority.

Hockey, tennis, soccer, netball, squash, padel and golf involve balls reaching incredible speeds. Our eyes also need protection from branches, dust and stones while mountain biking and trail running.

UV light protection is also important and is a good way to help maintain healthy eyes and good vision. Together with protecting your eyes from wind and dust, this also helps keep your eyes looking good (and less irritated) too.

These factors are important for all of us, but can hold even more significance for those dependent on glasses, who may end up wearing their day-to-day glasses (which aren’t ideally safe enough) for school sports.

So what should we look for in sports-appropriate eyewear for us and our children?

- The lens size should usually be larger than the orbit (the eye socket).

- Ball sports may require a small enough lens opening to block the ball (such as in squash).

- Lens material should have higher impact resistance ( like polycarbonate), with scratch and fog-resistant coatings, for practicality.

- Tints should be appropriate (often adjusting to conditions).

- The frame should be adjustable, strong and made to break away from the eyes on impact.

Contact lenses also play an important role, with daily disposable contact lenses being a hygienic option for even younger children to see better during once or twice a week sports matches.

As always, speak to your optometrist who can advise on prescription and non-prescription protective eyewear ideal for the sports you enjoy.

Making the World Easier to See. Tips for those with Low Vision.

Words: Joanne Kalil

(First printed in the Simbithi Scene Magazine Summer Edition 2023  . Reprinted with permission.)

For those in our Simbithi community with low vision, an underlying eye condition can mean that ordinary glasses don’t help sufficiently and that stronger-than-normal glasses, optical magnifiers, and digital low vision aids are needed.

The medical care from their ophthalmologist (to manage and stabilise the eye condition as much as possible) and the practical care from their optometrist with a special interest in low vision (in helping them to work around difficulties with visual tasks), are both important in navigating their visual difficulties. Having said this, environmental design and adaptations can also make things noticeably easier to see.

Lighting is an important tool and can be one of the primary reasons why a person’s glasses may seem to work at some times but not others. Angle-poise lights (aimed away from the person’s eyes to avoid glare), directly on what they are trying to see (from as close a distance as is practical) often provides a surprising benefit to clarity. The type of lighting is important too. Clear, white light is often the most beneficial, but warmer colours can be considered if the person’s eyes feel more comfortable with these. These lights can be used for so many daily tasks: writing, reading, preparing food, eating, using the tv remote, applying makeup and so many other “skills of daily living”.

Colour choices also matter. White soap on a white background may blend into the background, while coloured soap stands out much more boldly. Consider this when buying toothpaste, shampoo, table cloths, crockery etc. Coffee cups might be white on the inside and dark on the outside so that the person can more easily see the contrasting colours at the rim, when aiming the kettle to pouring water. Contrasting edging on steps or railings are good safety features.

Colour coded (and raised to be tactile) labels can also be used on tv remote controls, appliance dials etc.

Larger print is of course easier to see. Consider this when setting up digital devices (take a look at the options of accessibility settings in cell phones, tablets and computers). Large print calculators, telephones, kitchen scales, rulers etc are also available.

From a safety perspective be sure to keep walkways clear and well-lit, ideally having rounded edges on furniture, granite kitchen tops and door handles.

Simple adaptations like these and working with the person themselves, and their optometrist experienced in low vision care, can go a long way to making the visual environment more accessible to those with low vision.