Back To School

10:57 AM

Schools across the country are heading back to the classroom in the next week or two, and as a parent there is more than enough to purchase and prepare to ensure your child is ready.  I know your schedules are busy, but I cannot recommend enough the importance of a full eye exam for children, especially as they return to the classroom with its multitude of visual demands!

According to a study by the AOA, 60 percent of students identified as “problem learners” had undiagnosed vision problems.  Due to these alarming findings three states across the nation have implemented mandatory vision exams prior to the start of school (Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois).  Many more are contemplating adding similar laws due to the success of these programs.

Could your child have an undetected visual problem?  Here are some behaviors and complaints to look for:

-Holding reading materials or homework too close (this could be a sign of near sightedness or accommodative spasm which is a disorder of the focusing system)


-Headaches, frequently at school and during homework

-Skipping words or entire lines when reading

-Avoiding reading or near work  (Note: often this child is deemed “lazy” but avoidance is a common response when the visual strain is too demanding)

In addition to uncovering basic refractive errors such as myopia (near sightedness), hyperopia (far sightedness), and astigmatism, a comprehensive eye exam can detect binocular visual disorders that can greatly impact your child’s ability to perform activities like reading.  As optometrists, my colleagues and I are also trained to detect strabismus (eye turns) and amblyopia, conditions where one eye is being underutilized which may result in permanent vision loss unless treated.  Also assessed are the child’s focusing system (also called accommodative and convergence systems) and the ocular motor system which is important for both tracking objects and the saccadic eye movements we need for reading. 

Treatment for these visual conditions ranges from glasses to vision therapy activities that may improve facility of visual processing and skills like reading.  If your child has been diagnosed with a condition where glasses are required, it is still important to be seen yearly, or as directed by your doctor, due to the significant changes in vision that may happen from year to year as your child is growing.  Make sure your child’s glasses are also fitting appropriately; if they are significantly bent an unwanted shift in the prescription of the lenses may be induced that can result in decreased vision and eye strain.

The most important thing I can leave you with is the knowledge that the visual system (which includes both the eyes and brain) are the pathways through which virtually all learning is achieved.  Having this system assessed is the only way to ensure that your child’s learning ability is not compromised by a visual issue that in most cases is easily solved with glasses or appropriate therapy.
Photo courtesy 123RF

Good luck to everyone and happy back to school!

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