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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Visually Ready: Healthy Eyes, Healthy Brain

Aug 02, 2014 06:04PM ● By Dr. Samantha Slotnick

August is Vision & Learning Month—a great opportunity to make sure your child is prepared for success in school. As many as 25 percent of children in any classroom have vision problems that keep them from using their visual systems efficiently and effectively. And while healthy eyes are a must, it’s the brain that directs our eyes and our vision for learning.

Many of us take the visual process for granted, but it really is quite complex. We look to school screenings to ensure that our children have “good vision,” but in fact, the ability to read an eye chart only assesses eyesight. A child with 20/20 eyesight has the ability to see clearly at a distance of 20 feet. In a classroom, however, most learning takes place at near-point. Homework assignments often require prolonged, intense, near work. That’s a much higher demand than 20/20 vision: it takes healthy eyes and a coordinated brain.

If you think about it, eyesight is a misleading word. Sight really does not happen in the eye—it takes place in the brain. Here’s a rudimentary breakdown of the vision process: First we see a mixture of borders, shades and colors. Next we have to process them to appreciate them as shapes and forms. Further processing is needed in order for us to 1) identify what the form is and 2) discern where the form is and 3) discriminate the figure from the background.

In fact, most of what we appreciate visually is the result of a much greater visual process. Try this experiment:

First clear your mind, and take in the room around you. Got it? Good.

Now, before you take a second look, consider this word: blue. Now look again. Did that change what you noticed?

Before you take a third look, consider this word: yellow. Now look a third time. Did that change your perception?

For many of us, a simple priming of a concept (or color) will change what we take in. We do not see anything different or new, but we change what we perceive and even where we place our attention.

Eye Problems vs. Vision Problems

Many people consider the eyes the most critical factor in our sight. But as the above experiment demonstrates, what we see with our eyes can be easily modified. The eyes are the sensors through which information is collected for a much more complex visual process. And the seat of control for these sensors is the brain (in general terms).

In order to use our eyes efficiently as sensors, the brain sends neurological signals to the eyes regarding

where to aim the two eyes in the visual field

how much eye-teaming energy to apply to make both eyes aim in the same direction (enabling single vision)

how much focusing power to apply (in order to see clearly)

how quickly to move the eyes (to match the speed and direction of a moving target)

how much energy to apply to jump the eyes to the next target of interest (in order to look elsewhere)

That’s a lot of work! And it all takes place in order to simply collect clear, single visual information for further processing.

Is your child struggling to keep his or her eyes on point? A comprehensive vision evaluation can help you find out if your child is visually ready for school. For a list of signs and symptoms of a vision problem, visit

Samantha Slotnick, OD, is a behavioral optometrist practicing in Scarsdale, NY. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, and she is certified in vision therapy and rehabilitation. For more information on vision and learning, visit