What All Parents Need To Know About Vision

Strong Vision Is Critical For Success In School And For Full Child Development

In Alberta, vision assessment in children is considered optional and this leads to some serious concerns when children who need the help don’t get it. Slowly but surely, health and education professionals are waking up to some basic facts about how vision works and why we cannot ignore it if we want our children to succeed in good health. A better policy is to simply ensure all children are checked in a timely fashion. Schools, as our safe-keepers of child education and development, have an important role to play in vision management. As it stands, the job is not getting done and the costs are dear.

What follows are a number of questions commonly asked about vision, information that all parents need to know. Parents need to ensure their children’s vision is checked. This Q & A should help to make clear why vision care for children should not be considered an option. My other articles spell out many of the other details, and there is always more to come. Should you wish to ask a question about vision, child development, or learning, feel free to write to us at info ‘@’ dvvc.ca.

Q: My child seems to see just fine. Why should I have his/her eyes checked?

A: What a child appears to ‘see’ is a very small part of the picture: http://drboulet.com/cooks-7-visual-abilities/

The most significant vision impediments in the classroom are not visible or apparent to the untrained eye. They can be measured and demonstrated, but parents, teachers, and family doctors generally don’t have the tools or experience to assess the details of vision. More importantly, the most serious vision concerns are very difficult to see, and children will not report them. This means they will suffer in plain sight, but no one will know there is a problem. This is why all children should be checked.

Q: How important is vision in the classroom?

A: In a healthy child, the state of vision is the single most important element in school success. One common estimate says 80% of a child’s learning is visual – and this is mostly through reading. The only elements more important are food, water, sleep, and a loving home. Schools require very strong vision for the intensely visual nature of modern learning, even more now than in past years because of a much heavier reliance on text and computers. Vision is invisible to the observer, but it is very important. Parents, and schools, should not assume all is well just because a child is not complaining, or there are no concerns from the teacher or family doctor.

Q: When should I have child’s vision checked?

A: You are strongly encouraged to ensure your child is assessed for vision needs, period, at all ages. Any time is a good time for a vision exam, but the child’s first exam should be by 12months, then periodically afterwards depending on need. Children should be monitored regularly through their school years. Schools base instruction on reading, and if there is even a mild impediment to reading, a child will struggle in often unexpected ways.

Q: What does a child vision exam cost?

A: In Alberta, child vision exams are covered as a necessary service under healthcare. Exams for seniors and for medically necessary concerns are also covered. They cost of the exam is under $60. Glasses for children is a different story. Currently parents have to pay for glasses out of pocket or through insurance and benefits. A more equitable plan would be to have the Province cover glasses costs for parents while children are in school. As it stands, some are way over-burdened compared to others. Some children who need glasses don’t get them because of financial constraints. Glasses for a child who needs them should not be something parents should have to worry about. (See Note Below.)

Q: Don’t glasses weaken the eyes?

A: No, glasses facilitate vision. Wearing glasses when reading is like wearing shoes while hiking. You can walk without the shoes, but you’ll do a lot better with them on. When you take them off and walk for a while barefoot across sticks and stones, you realize how much you like to have them on. It doesn’t mean your feet are weaker, it just means you’re smart enough to know to wear protection. Glasses should be viewed in the same manner, except that they greatly facilitate the learning process by making near vision much easier for a child.

Q: What are the benefits of a child vision exam?

A: As necessary services go, vision care in children is the single best investment of healthcare dollars. Attending to a child’s vision needs saves in public spending, prevents unneeded spending on testing and reading programs, and ensures a child can succeed in life. We fail our children when we allow them to go on through school without ever checking their vision.

Q:What is a ‘visual impediment to learning’?

A: These are functional problems with the visual system that get in the way of a child’s classroom learning. These children are not blind, but other concerns like farsightedness, astigmatism, and targeting problems can make learning difficult or impossible for some. Most children with visual impediments go on to struggle because these issues are never detected. Parents, teachers, and family doctors will not typically see the vision impediments that interfere with children’s learning.

Q: What can a vision assessment tell me about my child’s vision?

A: Vision in 5 year-olds is already very well-established. If there is a concern, it will be apparent at that age. Targeting, alignment, and the nature of eyesight are most critical. We can tell at 5 years whether a child is likely to have a vision-related learning problem. In some cases, a wait-and-see approach is taken, in other cases where vision problems are more serious, early intervention can prevent false diagnosis of dyslexia and other behavior problems.

Schools need to not only insist on vision exams, but must go out of their way to facilitate the process.

Q: My school doesn’t require vision exams, why?

A: It’s a mistake for schools to not require vision exams for all children. For the 1 of every 4 children who struggle with vision concerns, most go undetected. In some populations, this number rises to 1 in every 3 children. When vision is ignored, schools and the healthcare system start looking for medical and psychological problems to solve what often has a simple solution. For the children, they miss out on life opportunities, and this is a violation of their basic rights.

One cannot overstate the importance of essential vision care in early learners, yet schools ignore it, or pay it only lip service. Schools and family doctors generally do not insist on vision exams because they lack the professional training to know how important it is. Those who pay attention to vision needs are much more likely to answer the full learning and health needs of children in their care. Those who don’t are missing a big part of the child development puzzle. Schools need to not only insist on vision exams, but must go out of their way to facilitate the process. It matter to children, families, and taxpayers.

Q: What’s the difference between nearsighted, farsighted, and astigmatism in the classroom?

A: Nearsightedness is most often a good thing for a child in the classroom, unless it’s quite bad. Nearsighted eyes are generally more relaxed for working up close. Because the child has obvious trouble seeing in the distance, he is more likely to be given the benefit of an eye exam. Farsightedness is much worse in that it makes near work much more strenuous, and this for young children especially. To make matters worse, farsightedness is not apparent to parents, teachers, and doctors. The farsighted child can often see clearly at a distance and up close, but they experience great muscle strain especially when working at near distances, like at a desk. The farsighted child most often suffers for years without help, struggling with school work especially reading. The resulting behaviour is often called dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. Astigmatism is similar to farsightedness, but it is more likely to be detected because it causes more blur than farsightedness. By far, farsightedness and astigmatism represent the greatest source of correctable impediments to learning. Most often they go undetected.

Note Regarding Glasses For Children: Parents can receive glasses for their child in Kindergarten if they are prescribed by an optometrist. The Eye See Eye Learn program, sponsored by the Alberta Association of Optometrists and industry partners, was started some years ago as a trial project in some schools in Alberta. It is now available province-wide and provides a pair of rudimentary glasses for children who need them. There are problems with the program, not the least of which are slow delivery times, poor quality, and the fact that it only covers one pair per child for the duration of their school years. A more equitable system would provide a glasses benefit each year or two for parents whose children are still in school.

 

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