The Importance of Eye Exams for Children
As you prepare your child’s back to school checklist, you want to make sure you have a comprehensive EYE EXAMINATION as part of that list. Did you know that 80% of learning is done through vision? Eye exams are just as important as dental visits and annual physicals. As an Optometrist, I believe it is important to have your child`s eyes examined to encourage normal vision development and academic achievement.
Statistics show that one in four children have an undiagnosed vision problem that interferes with learning. A vision screening performed by a child’s pediatrician or primary care physician during a routine check-up or a screening done by a school nurse is not intended to replace a comprehensive eye examination done by an Optometrist. A screening is limited and not sufficient to rule out significant visual problems. 40% of children who pass a vision screener fail their eye exam because vision is more than being able to see 20/20. Even worse, an eyesight problem can be misdiagnosed as a learning disorder such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder (ADD).
During eye examinations, I often see children who do not complain of vision problems despite experiencing symptoms. This is not uncommon as children do not know how they are supposed to see. If a child is experiencing blurred vision, they may think everyone sees the same way. If a parent sees well they often assume their child does too. To diagnose certain eye issues and prevent them from developing into lifelong vision problems, it is necessary to have your child`s eyes examined yearly.
At what age should a child start to have their first eye exam
I recommend children should have their first eye exam at the age of 6 months during infancy and thereafter annually. The sooner we can see the infant, the sooner we can detect and diagnose any eye conditions that may be present. Treatment outcomes are better when the child is younger. Alberta Health and Wellness covers one comprehensive eye examination per year for children under the age of 18 years. No referral is needed to visit your Optometrist, so I encourage parents to book your child in for their annual eye examination prior to the start of the school year.
A comprehensive eye examination with an Optometrist takes into account:
- The ocular and medical history of the child and their family
- The vision potential of each eye. Can your child clearly see the board, books and computer?
- The vision skills required for learning:
- Eye focusing: the ability to shift focus from one distance to another ex. taking notes from the board to a notebook
- Eye coordination, Eye tracking, and Depth perception: ensuring the eyes are working together ex. reading and tracking with the eyes rather than using a finger
- Color vision: if your child is color deficient, it is important to advise the school teacher
- Health of the eyes
If you are concerned your child is not able to read or recognize the alphabet during an eye exam, we have pictures, shapes and symbols they can identity. For infants, we are primarily using our objective findings to ensure the eyes have developed well.
What symptoms should parents/teachers be monitoring for when a child is in school
It is really important for parents and children to be aware and monitor for signs and symptoms a child may be experiencing that could be impacting their learning. Some of the more common signs include:
- blurry vision
- double vision
- holding material close to the eyes
- eye strain
- a strabismus (turned eye)
- a head turn or tilt
- closing or covering one eye
- excessive blinking
- rubbing and/or tearing
- itching or burning of the eyes
Most parents are unaware of other signs and symptoms that are linked to vision and learning and those include:
- a dislike of near work ex. Lego, drawing, a short attention span
- day dreaming during work time
- skipping word, letters or lines when reading or taking notes from the board
- using their head or finger to track when reading instead of their eyes
- trouble reading, difficulty remembering what they read, or poor comprehension
- delayed learning of the alphabet
- persistent letter, number or word reversals ex. BDPQ
- problems with laterality
- not completing assignments on time
- difficulty with geometric shapes
- poor hand-eye coordination
- poor performance in school
- behaviour problems
If your child is experiencing any of the following signs/symptoms, parents should bring this up with your eye doctor during the eye exam. Treatments such as vision therapy or reading programs may need to be initiated to help with the underlying vision problem. Hence, it is critical for parents to have their children’s eye checked before starting school to ensure their child has the best start to learning.
What is the Eye See Eye Learn Program
The ESEL program was developed to raise awareness among teachers and parents of the importance of having their child’s eye eyes examined during the kindergarten year. A form is completed by our Optometrists and the results are shared their family doctor and school. If it is determined a child needs glasses during the kindergarten year, the child gets a free pair through the program. For more information please refer to http://www.optometrists.ab.ca/eye-see-eye-learn
As an Optometrist, I want to see children reach their full potential in school. A bright child can perform poorly in school and develop low self-esteem due to poor vision. A comprehensive eye examination will help ensure your child’s eyes are healthy, seeing well and functioning optimally. Good vision is essential to the learning process. It’s important to have your child`s eyes examined by an Optometrist annually to encourage success in school
Biography: Dr. Farrah Sunderji, OD completed her Optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry followed by a residency in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy at the Southern California College of Optometry. She practices at EyedeologyTM in Centennial Clinic.