Does better coordination = better academic performance?

August 1, 2018
Study says eye care and vision health have important role in childhood development.
Children Coordination - Better performance

One of the fundamental milestones in children's development is "interceptive timing." This can enable them to make the sensorimotor connection between seeing a ball thrown to them and catching it, or hitting a pitched ball with a bat.

However, according to the authors of a Leeds University-led study, making that contact may have other benefits. The study, " Hitting the Target: Mathematical Attainment in Children is Related to Interceptive-Timing Ability," was published in July 2018 in  Psychological Science and links that timing to academic performance, underscoring the roles eye care and vision health have in childhood development.

"The interceptive-timing skills of humans are a testimony to the incredible learning capacity of the sensorimotor system and its ability to overcome the challenges involved in controlling over 600 muscles with the inherent difficulties of nonlinearity, nonstationary, information delays, and noise while operating within an uncertain world," the researchers wrote.

Sight (spatial ability, for instance) provides a significant amount of that sensory input. In their study, researchers gave about 300 primary school students, ages 5-11 years, a series of computer-based tasks to complete: steering, aiming and tracking. Their mathematic scores were gleaned from a national standardized math test.

Their findings: Early sensorimotor encounters by children with their environment may impact children's academic performance, in particular math compared to reading and writing.

"This study demonstrates for the first time that interceptive-timing ability can predict mathematical performance in primary school children," the authors wrote.

The role of optometry

For Glen Steele, O.D., the study underscores optometry's essentialness by recognizing that:

  • Vision is involved in the entire developmental process from birth onward.
  • Professionals outside the eye care fields utilize children's vision as a marker for meeting developmental milestones.

Dr. Steele, past chair of the AOA's  InfantSEE ® and Children's Vision Committee and professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, says the study also bears out the pivotal role optometry can have on children's development.

"This study is supportive of the need for early assessment of all facets of comprehensive eye care, especially eye-hand coordination," Dr. Steele says. "When areas such as eye-hand coordination or depth perception are neglected until the child is determined to be 'clumsy," it takes more in-depth management to resolve.

"This study utilizes specific eye-hand coordination tasks and links it to future abilities in math," he adds. "This is an area in which optometrists can provide early identification and intervention. I would encourage doctors of optometry to look early and look often to ensure that eye-hand coordination abilities are developing age-appropriately. Questions concerning eye-hand coordination should be asked of the parent at every visit. If it is not developing appropriately, optometric interventions such as vision therapy could be a management option."

David Redman, O.D., AOA's 2018 Optometrist of the Year, has been a leader in advocating for access to schoolchildren in California where he practices. The findings in the study can potentially change lives, Dr. Redman says.

"The significance of the study is that it is potentially predictive of ability," Dr. Reman says. "If you can train or improve interceptive timing, then perhaps you could improve a child's ability to be successful in school. At minimum, you may be able to figure out which kids may need more assistance in school.

"Anything we can do to improve future outcomes is in the best interest of the child," he adds. "If you can improve interceptive timing in a child, it may completely change their whole life. Just as we do with glasses and binocular training, we always strive to help improve a child's future by early intervention. For doctors of optometry, cognitive testing may be a useful tool to help children succeed in school. It could be incorporated into our binocular vision training."

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