Part VIII – The Case of the Missing Children
The sign above the school secretary’s desk reads “I don’t have an attitude problem. You don’t like my attitude. That’s not my problem.” I like that. It’s clear, simple, and you know where you stand. Nearsightedness (myopia) is like that: The child can’t see far away. Easy. Other visual problems, not so much.
Site visits are the best thing in the world, especially when it’s in a school: Dollar for dollar, we make more of an impact in people’s lives through school visits than any other treatment available to children today. I could only start to guess why, but children in more isolated and/or more impoverished communities suffer a higher rate of significant visual problems. The questions of why are best left to others to study, my interest is more in ‘what now’? Well, ‘what now’ is you assess and treat. You enable education and life options by fixing problems early, and there are many of them in schools all over the countryside and right here in our communities.
In one community (a nearby community, much like the other nearby communities), 35% of children in elementary have enough farsightedness and astigmatism to make vision difficult, and studying more of a chore than it need be, if not impossible. These problems are in addition to other serious muscle coordination problems and amblyopia (‘lazy eye’). These problems, unlike myopia, are difficult to spot for parents and teachers but have far-reaching consequences. They are not nice, and children suffer with them silently not knowing any better.
When we looked in the High School, we noted many fewer kids were troubled with these same problems as a percentage of the population. In general, the kids in high school tended to have either neutral vision (which is good) or more nearsightedness (which is better for students and desk jockeys). So, where did all those farsighted kids go? Some might ask if the children grew out of the astigmatism or farsightedness. Rather than make this into a whole whodunnit, I’ll just skip to the chase: The fact is, you don’t grow out of difficult vision – there are so few cases of bad vision in the high school because the kids quit somewhere along the way.
Even the brightest students will be held back by bad vision. Now, let’s think about this. Imagine you are a student, trying your best, but you find you simply CAN’T study, yet people are constantly on your case to get your marks up. You constantly find trouble and frustration associated with school. Maybe you’ve been tested, retested, given pills. Depending on your circumstances, resources, brains, and ambition, you can struggle through and do the best you can, or simply do like most others do: Quit school, try something else.
Again, depending on where you live and your circumstances, this ‘something else’ can be a labor job, minimum wage at a convenience store, the sex trade, or the drug trade. It is not surprising to learn that prisons also have populations with high frequencies of visual dysfunction and impediments.
A recent study showed how Alberta is ranked 2nd in the country for money spent in early childhood development. That is, 2nd from the bottom, just above Newfoundland. We seem to like spending money on police and prisons more than preventing trouble with kids. Trouble with vision and development is easy is easy to spot, can usually be fixed easily, and make school possible for the affected child. Why we don’t make such intervention an imperative through the schools is beyond me. As I’ve said before, it also gets my taxpayer’s hackles up: An ounce of prevention and all that.
The schools I work with now recognize that simply looking for trouble areas and intervening early saves years of misery for parents, teachers and students (literally thousands of man-years) in one school alone. This isn’t to speak of the incalculable costs to families and societies through crime for those who look for alternatives to school. As for investigating why remote and impoverished communities have higher rates of visual problems, maybe the question should be ‘how are the visual problems contributing to their plight’, and ‘why aren’t we addressing this issue’? This is not a new idea, and the studies showing the benefits are out there in abundance. There’s only so much one clinic can do, it’s time the Province make developmental assessments and intervention mandatory for all children in all schools.
Remember, the burden of difficult vision affects all kids with indifference, so it doesn’t matter if Sally and Billy are ‘gifted’ or in remedial math, laboured vision presents the same miserable bugbear that must be carried until the child gets proper care and attention.