Take a moment to consider the many functions or skills which our visual system performs. Imagine you are in a field playing catch with a frisbee. Your eyes coordinate with your hands to throw the frisbee. They track the frisbee as it moves through space. They allow you to focus on it at a far distance, or close. They work together to allow you to perceive depth and distance. They recognize the color of the frisbee, and they hold an image of it in your mind so that when you hear the word “frisbee” a mental picture can be recalled.
When our visual system is healthy, the eyes, nervous system and brain allow us to see clearly in all of the varying conditions we encounter. They allow us to do tiny detail work up close, and to see clearly on the horizon. They adjust to bright sunlight and to night conditions. They give us depth and peripheral vision as well as central focusing ability.
The following is a list of visual skills which the healthy visual system maintains.
Acuity: Clear, sharp edges; the ability to read things that are near, and far away.
Accommodation: Flexibility to adjust our focus from distance to near and back to distance again and to be able to hold that “focus”. Important for keeping a focus when reading, for example.
Eye Movement: There are two different types of eye movements: fast, accurate saccadic movements that easily jump from one thing to another, and smooth, fluid movements that allow us to follow something like a ball, a bird, or an approaching car. The eyes need to be able to perform both types of movement with ease as they gather information.
Eye Teaming: Ability to coordinate the two eyes and the information received from them. The brain fuses the image from each eye together into one so that we see one image wherever we “look”, or point our eyes. Good fusion allows us to see in 3D.
Visual Perception: Understanding, recognizing and interpreting symbols, letters, and other forms.
Eye-Hand-Body Coordination: Synchronization of body movements with the perception through the eyes, for a myriad of tasks from handwriting to playing sports.
Visual Memory: Ability to remember or visualize images. Important for learning to spell, to remember numbers, details, and the way home!
Color Recognition: Ability to differentiate between colors.
Light Adjustment: Adjusting to varying light conditions, from watching stars, to being outside in bright sunlight, to driving at night with headlights coming toward you.
For most people, these visual skills are learned naturally in childhood. As long as children have appropriate stimulation, rest and nutrition, their ability to see well will develop over time.
For a growing number of people however, the ability to see clearly at all distances and to maintain the visual skills mentioned above, does not continue for a lifetime. At some point – usually after a period of stress – their vision becomes blurry and focusing is increasingly difficult.
In order to return to good vision, it helps to understand how the system is designed to function, and then to consciously re-establish relaxed, healthy seeing habits. This re-training of the visual system is the process of Vision Education.