According to Donald J. Getz, O.D., up to 75 to 80 percent of what a child learns is through what he/she sees.
Since our children with Down syndrome often have vision problems such as poor eye tracking, central vision or visual perceptual issues -- it needs to be fixed so that our children's ability to receive information is maximized!
Fortunately, there are many fun and easy games you can play to improve your child's vision while increasing their chances to learn.
Since eyes are controlled by muscles, they must be exercised like any other muscle to perform and function at optimal levels. Eye tracking exercises not only flex those muscles, but can also improve eyesight by helping the eye maintain proper focus, which is the capability of tracking objects between near and far points and in everyday tasks.
If your child is over four months old and sometimes crosses his/her eyes or has a lazy eye, (when one eye turns inward or outward during tracking,) you may want to consider eye exercises.
If their eyes aren't addressed, this not only limits visual input needed for learning but it can also effect hand-eye coordination needed for learning how to write or participate in sports.
Jett's poor central vision was the first thing we addressed and conquered. (If your child looks at you from the "top" of his eyes or tilts his head a lot when watching TV or in pictures, that's a tip - off that the central vision is poor.) He also had an inward turning eye that we worked on for quite some time.
His Neurodevelopmentalist, gave us very helpful exercises tailored to his needs. Some were specific to his issues while some are very helpful in general and help with tracking.
The more I worked on it with Jett, the more it helped, and the more improvement I saw. I feel it's an issue I should have focused more on earlier.
You know how it is, there are so many issues, it's difficult to know what to prioritize!
While Jett's Developmental Vision Ophthalmologist (DVO) gave us some great eye exercises to do, she also gave us a prescription for glasses, which we decided to wait on. She assured us that the visual system is very plastic and changeable.
Giving your child appropriate stimulation opportunities for normal function is a better choice over resorting to artificial means of vision enhancement.
It is best to try to achieve normal vision and convergence (the ability of the eyes to work together) before looking to artificial means of glasses or surgical intervention.
By treating the root cause of the problems rather than treating the symptoms, sensory dysfunction can be improved and often resolved with appropriate stimulation.
After only two months of vision therapy, Jett's depth perception improved. He was able to see objects in space much better and had an easier time going down the stairs and walking through doorways where there are floor changes. Jett's DVO was very pleased with his progress.
Suggested Activities For Visual Stimulation
- Watch the Airplane!
This exercise works great with children and infants when you use something exciting to look at like a toy that lights up or moves. Have your child stand or sit comfortably and then take the toy and place it near, but not on, the tip of their nose. Then gradually move the object away from their nose until you're about arms length from their nose. Try to get them to keep focusing on the toy the entire time.
Next, bring the toy back toward their nose. By repeating this exercise about 20 times, you can exercise the eye to maintain focus and improve tracking ability.
- Follow the Light!
Using a flashlight, stand in a dark room with your child. This game is fun and will also help the eyes track in varying degrees of darkness. The point of this type of exercise is to help the eyes follow and track moving objects. For example, you can slowly move the flashlight beam around the room or focus on various objects.
Go up, down, left, right and diagonally.
- Look out for the Ball!
Another great way to exercise the eyes and improve tracking speed is to hang a tennis or ping-pong ball from a string tacked to the ceiling. Hold the ball and pull it away from your child. Watching the ball, your child will track its movement and get out of the way without moving his feet.
This exercise helps increase the speed at which their eyes can track objects and offers additional benefits for speed and coordination as well.
- Air Writing!
Move a brightly colored object slowly across your child's visual field, approximately 12 inches from their face.
Make an "H" in the air to see if he/she can move his eyes up and down and left and right. Make an "X" in the air to see if he/she can track diagonally. Be sure to go in each direction and watch the eyes.
- Bat the Ball!
Suspend a beach ball from the ceiling or door frame with a strong string or rope. Have your child bat it back and forth, left and right while watching the ball. Try the same with a balloon.
- Alphabet Antics!
Write the letters of the alphabet in a random pattern on a large poster board with a bright marker.
Have your child use a pointer (broom handle or yard stick) to touch letters to spell words or go in alphabetical order.
- Skewer the Beads!
Give your child 10 brightly colored beads in a small bowl. Hold a wooden skewer with ends dulled and move it slowly around while your child tries to locate it with his eyes and put a bead on the skewer.
- Find it!
Practice mazes, word finds and hidden pictures to improve visual perceptual skills.
If your child has balance or equilibrium issues, make sure that he/she is in a secure seated position when doing these exericses. People prone to seizures should use caution and consult a physician before starting an eye exercise program. These exercises are not intended to be a substitute for professional services such as vision therapy or occupational therapy.
Andi's blog Down syndrome: A Day to Day Guide features a collection of notes, research and information to help you best care for your loved one who has a little "extra"!. Click HERE to visit the blog.