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Is 20-20 Vision Important for the Classroom?

Hi there.  Dr. Meltzer here to answer this week’s EVA Q&A question about the importance of 20/20 vision in the classroom.  I often see children whose parents state that their child’s vision was tested by their pediatrician or school nurse.  What they usually mean is that their child’s ability to see 20/20 was tested.  While this is important, is it the MOST important skill needed for children to do well in school?   Here are two photos for you to observe.  The one over here is a pixilated image of someone you may recognize.   Did you figure out who it was almost immediately?  I’m sure most of you did. The photo surely is NOT sharp and crisp like a 20/20 image should be but your brain was able to process the visual information there, match it with known visual information you’ve experienced, and come up with Abraham Lincoln rather quickly, right?

Now over here is another photo.  I assure you that it has not been blurred, changed, or edited in any way at all.  It is a clear picture of something you have all seen at some time in your life.  You can go to this video blog post on our website,, and take as long as you’d like to look at this picture.   I won’t say what it is but I will tell you this:  Once your brain is able to figure out what it is seeing here, you will never see this picture as you do now as your brain will process it, immediately, as what you now know it to be.  This is because there vision is MORE THAN just reading a 20/20 size letter on a chart!

Pixilated AL For BLOG POST

Vision is our brain’s ability to analyze and quickly process what we are looking at and make appropriate responses and actions.  Even though the Abraham Lincoln photo wasn’t 20/20, many of you were able to quickly process it.  A sharp, crisp, 4k, 20/20 image was NOT needed to do so correctly.  And many of you with good eyesight may still have no idea what that second picture is.  Are you starting to see that there is MUCH MORE to how we see than just reading the 20/20 line on an eye chart?

Vision screenings neglect to assess the importance of the following skills that are essential to a child’s success in the classroom:

  • First, there is our eyes Accommodative or focusing skills. This refers to the ability of the eyes to keep am image in focus as we look at different distances.  It also refers to the visual system’s ability to sustain that focus over an extended period of time, for example, keeping the text clear when reading a book.
  • Secondly, good scanning and tracking skills are vital. These refer to our ability to move the two eyes together.  This can be done as pursuit which is when we smoothly move our eyes to track and follow something, like the teacher walking around the classroom.  This can also be done as a rapid shifting of our eyes from one object to another, also called a saccade, where the eyes quickly take their attention from one point in the classroom and very quickly move it to another point in the classroom.
  • Another important skill is the ability to aim our eyes between near and far objects; also referred to as converging; when we look from far to near or diverging; when we look from near to far. Equally important, and related, is the ability to keep the eyes aligned when looking at a fixed distance over an extended period of time.

The physical act of trying to read requires ALL of these skills to work together, at the same time, in order to be successful.  The eyes have to be able to look at that first word in a paragraph, focus on it so that it is legible, converge the eyes to both be aiming at that word, so that it is not double, and then finally jump from one word to the next, and one line to the next, in order to read.  And this is just describing how to read the words.  We haven’t even discussed the most crucial aspect of the visual system!  It’s ability to interpret and process what it is seeing.  That is the difference between the act of reading and the ability to comprehend what we read!

So the final area we need to briefly discuss before I end this video are those visual processing skills!  These skills refer to the ability of our brain to interpret and analyze what our eyes are seeing.  This is a complicated process that, in order to explain it properly, will be the topic of a future blog post!  For the purpose of this video, I will just say that it is the pinnacle of our ability to look at something and glean as much information as possible from it and truly be able to comprehend what we are looking at and our ability to interact with the world around us.

Many children who struggle in the classroom are found to have excellent eyesight, the ability to see 20/20 but have a poorly functioning visual system.  Whether they cannot aim, focus, or track properly or struggle with more complex issues with how their brain process the information their eyes are gathering, is the purpose of seeing a behavioral optometrist who understands these skills, how they should have developed in a child, and, most importantly, how to help your child develop any skills that may not be adequate for what they are doing in school.

COW FOR 20 20 Blog post

So if you have a child who has passed a school or pediatrician’s vision screening but they are still struggling to learn to read or succeed in the classroom, please have them see one of our residency trained Behavioral Optometrists.  Drs. Meltzer and Tamburro will help determine how we may be able help your child achieve their full potential in the classroom!







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