Although I am a few years away from officially sending my little boy off to school, I can already foresee a frenzied scramble in the weeks and days leading up to our first days of a new school year. Between shopping for back-to-school supplies and clothes, touring classrooms, meeting new teachers, immunizations and physicals- there are certainly a lot of items to check off those end of summer lists. But one fundamentally important back-to-school task I will never miss and all-too-often witness overlooked is the back-to-school eye exam.
The primary reason I hear for why a comprehensive eye exam is not on a parent’s back-to-school list is that their child has never complained of not being able to see. Unfortunately, this method of screening is pretty unreliable since many children with a vision impairment don’t report it, mainly because they don’t know the way they see is not normal. And while the adoption of screenings within schools is certainly helpful for finding some undetected vision issues, it is unfortunately not a catch-all. You can compare their credibility to trying to grab a handful of sand. Some will be caught, but a good amount will not remain in your fist. A screening may fail to pick-up some cases of near and farsightedness but also cannot detect accommodative issues (difficulty with the eye’s focusing system) or binocular vision impairment (an imbalance with the ocular muscles), and treatment for these ocular conditions is most successful when these visual disorders are treated early. When a child receives a comprehensive eye exam, an optometrist or ophthalmologist will also check the child’s eyes for ocular disease, something a simple vision screening cannot do.
Even a small undetected vision impairment can cause a lot of difficulty for your little learner. Vision problems may cause your child to have difficulty recognizing shapes, recognizing words and recognizing colors. Since it is estimated that 80% of what your child learns is taught with visuals, untreated visual problems can put your child at a significant disadvantage, which is why it is absolutely essential to discover and correct the problem before it interferes with school. And since symptoms of visual impairment can include poor classroom attention, inability to concentrate on near tasks and poor attention to detail, undetected visual conditions often get diagnosed as attention disorders, and children all too frequently end up on unnecessary medication. Doing what you can to make sure your child succeeds literally begins with making sure they have a well-functioning visual system, and unfortunately, it is estimated that only 50% of parents with children under 12 have taken their children to see an eye care professional.
Getting your child a comprehensive eye examination is one of the best ways you can ensure you are setting your child up for success and also protecting their good health. One in four children currently have an undetected vision problem, and I would strongly encourage you to make sure your child is not on the negative side of that statistic. I wish all a happy and healthy school year!
Fine Print: Guys, I am a licensed optometrist but this post was not written to substitute for a face-to-face examination and diagnosis by another licensed eye care provider. This post was written to be solely for informational purposes. If you think you have an eye emergency, please call your eye doctor or go to an emergency room. You can read my disclaimer more thoroughly here.