boy getting eyes examined
This year, while taking care of other back-to-school health needs such as required immunizations, it’s also a good idea to have your child’s vision checked. August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month and a perfect time to get your child’s vision in shape before the start of the school year.
Although your family physician or pediatrician will conduct a basic eye exam at the annual check-up, there are problems that this type of exam may not reveal. The American Optometric Association recommends that kids also visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam. A child’s vision may change significantly from ages 5-18.
Because 80% of learning in early childhood is visual, eye health can be critical to overall academic achievement. In fact, recent research shows that eye issues may contribute to behavioral and learning problems. In the absence of a comprehensive visual exam, these issues may be misdiagnosed and mistaken for ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, or behavioral issues.
Small screens can equal big problems
Nowadays at school, kids spend large amounts of time looking at computer and projection screens, televisions, and smart boards. Add to that the potential for further eye fatigue at home from various handheld tablets and portable video games (iPad, Kindle, or Nintendo DS, anyone?) the amount of eye strain on our children is vastly different from what we, as parents, experienced as kids. The most common vision problem in children is nearsightedness, or myopia, with farsightedness and astigmatism running a close second. Issues with eye fatigue, focusing, tracking, and coordination may also affect behavior and school performance.
During last school year, I noticed that my kindergarten-aged son was rubbing his eyes, blinking excessively, and even closing his left eye more than the right. It seemed that all of this had come out of nowhere. In reality, it had probably begun earlier, but was noticed only when the symptoms became physical in nature. At about the same time, I also noticed that he was more irritable than usual. After taking him to see our family physician, it was recommended that we see an ophthalmologist. Within a few days, my son had a diagnosis of far-sightedness and two new pairs of glasses, one for home and another for school. While his issue is not severe and his prescription is not too strong, the problems he was experiencing were significant enough to affect his physical and emotional behavior. Once he had his new glasses, he was back on track at school and at home.
If a child can’t see well, the ability to read and follow what is happening in class is greatly reduced. When this happens, concentration and self esteem can be affected, resulting in the child in acting out in frustration. Not only is the child affected, but so is everyone around him, from family to teachers and classmates.
What to look for
Even after having your child’s eyes examined annually via a comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, parents should keep an eye out for any conditions that may develop between annual check-ups. If your child experiences the following, see an eye health professional:
• Excessive or frequent eye rubbing or blinking
• Covering one eye
• The iris/pupil of eye seems lazy and off center
• Double vision
• Frequent headaches
• Short attention span
• Avoiding reading assignments
• Holding reading materials close to the face
• Difficulty remembering or understanding what she has read
• Losing place when reading
If your health insurance plan does not include visits to an eye health professional, the following community resources may be of assistance:
Florida’s Vision Quest, www.flvq.org
Since 1994, Florida’s Vision Quest has been a children’s charity providing a unique and comprehensive program that identifies vision problems in children, schedules free eye exams, and manufactures quality new eyeglasses for thousands of children throughout the state of Florida.
Collier County Health Department
Provides yearly screening for vision, hearing, growth and development, and scoliosis in state mandated grades (Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, and 6th).
Lighthouse of Collier: lighthouseofcollier.org
This organization promotes the development, implementation, and on-going evaluation of programs and services which foster independence and enhance the quality of life for the blind, visually impaired, and their caregivers.
If your child is not covered by health insurance, there are affordable options offered through the state of Florida’s Kid Care program. For more information, visit: www.floridakidcare.org.
Nicole Flesvig Bruland is a mother of two, writer, and educator. Raised near the Canadian border, and having studied in Paris, she is a French/English bilingual with a passion for language. She has been a teacher and education policy consultant at the Florida Department of Education. Nicole is a blogger for the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and an adjunct professor at Edison State College. She enjoys traveling and having fun with her sons, Jacob and Evan, and her husband Bronze.