KUSA — Vision is about much more than eye sight, and bad vision could significantly impact a child's ability to learn.

That's according to Rick Morris, a doctor of optometry and vision therapist who has a practice in Lakewood, the Academy of Visual Achievement.

"Vision is the meaning you're getting out of what you're seeing," Morris said. "Even eye doctors [might] say, 'You have 20/20 vision.' But that's a measure of your eyesight."

All Colorado school districts are mandated to test kids' eye sight, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Kids in the kindergarten, first, second, third, fifth and seventh grades are tested, and parents must be alerted when a deficiency is found.

Morris said although districts do perform a screening for eye sight, it is not effective.

"It gives [parents] a false sense of security," he said.

That's because it does not address vision as a whole, Morris said.

Morris identified three points about vision that play a critical role in a child's ability to learn:

1) Tracking issues.

Tracking is defined as the process of measuring either where a person is looking or the eye's motion relative to the head.

Tracking issues might affect a child's ability to focus or their peripheral vision. Eye teaming -- the muscles that ensure eyes work together -- may also be affected.

"If there is a tracking problem, kids are losing their place when reading, for example," Morris said. "It might mean clarity, or [words] comes in and out of focus. If those three systems are affected, that's going to affect the learning process.

2) Vision is learned.

Vision is a combination of what a person sees and what they experience, Morris said.

"You're not born at the age of 5 and you know what a car is. You've seen cars your life, but you don't automatically know they're cars. You learn that," Morris said.

3) Vision can get better.

Morris said since vision is learned, therapy can be used to make learning easier.

"Every time you give your child the answer...you're missing an opportunity for them to learn, to go through the trial and error," Morris said.

Morris said vision therapists can create artificial situations and other treatment programs to teach kids better vision, which in turn will enhance their learning abilities.

Vision therapy has been a controversial subject. A New York Times article lays out the criticism, including that some doctors said the practice lacks solid grounding in science and that published research is "largely anecdotal."

Critics have also said vision therapy relies on misconceptions about how the brain operates, according to the article.

For parents who do want to try vision therapy, Morris offered advice on what to ask when seeking an eye doctor:

  • Do you do tests at near?
  • Do you do testing that's related to academic ability?
  • If you don't do visual therapy, do you have a referral source that you work with?