Even though it’s summer, parents are already making back-to-school checklists of things to buy and appointments to make. Unfortunately, they may ignore an important appointment that can be the key to success for their children: an annual eye exam. The American Optometric Association estimates that one in four elementary school-aged children has vision problems that can impact every aspect of the classroom—from learning to behavioral problems.
When most people think about vision, they think only about visual acuity. But many children have vision problems other than not being able to see 20/20.
These include vision processing, vision perception, oculomotor skills and visual spatial skills. In addition, the vision system rarely acts alone; it integrates with the vestibular, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic system to interpret what we look at.
Knowing the symptoms of poor vision and how they manifest in the classroom is important. They include: poor motor control (hand/eye coordination, inconsistent handwriting, clumsiness), visualization difficulties (poor memorization, daydreaming), and organizational challenges (difficulty interpreting body language, reading words one-by-one).
Educators often mistake these for behavioral and performance issues. They may discipline children or give them remedial work instead of identifying the root cause of the issue.
Children often visit my office with 20/20 distance vision but have significant problems in these other areas, making learning particularly difficult.
We can help these children with two types of therapies: passive or active. Passive therapies include lenses, prisms, tints or occlusions. Active therapies include vision therapy or vision rehabilitation.
The goal of vision therapy is to help patients develop or improve fundamental visual skills and abilities. It also helps improve visual comfort, ease and efficiency, and changes how the patient processes or interprets visual information.
The far-reaching effects of vision issues may be associated with other common disorders: ADD/ADHD, sensory processing disorders, pervasive developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, strabismus and/or amblyopia, and dyslexia. The first step treating these should be a comprehensive eye exam.
Think About Your Eyes recognizes the importance of children getting an annual eye exam, especially before starting a new school year. Each year at this time, the campaign encourages parents to schedule an eye exam for the whole family. Make sure you and your employees discuss children’s eye exams and the impact of vision on learning with parents when they have their own evaluations. Children should be given every advantage in the classroom, starting with their vision.
Charles Shidlofsky, OD, FCOVD, is vice president of the Inter-national Sports Vision Association, a member of the Texas Opto-metric Association and among the 18,000 doctors listed on the Think About Your Eyes online locator. Think About Your Eyes is a nationwide public awareness initiative promoting the importance of an annual eye exam and overall vision health. First Vision Media Group supports Think About Your Eyes as a media partner.