It’s back to school time and that usually means doctor visits for most preschool aged children. But did you know that screening for eye and vision problems is also a very important part of the back-to-school routine?
Today’s post is written by our guest expert, Tamara Petrosyan, OD, she is the recipient of the 2015 American Optometric Association (AOA) Young Optometrist of the Year award and an assistant clinical professor at SUNY College of Optometry. Dr. Petrosyan will explain the reasons for early, comprehensive eye exams for all young children and how undiagnosed eye problems now may lead to reading difficulty later.
The Importance of Pediatric Eye Examinations
Vision problems can be more easily corrected when treatment begins early.
Most parents understand the importance of taking their children to the dentist to help prevent cavities. However, recent research highlights the importance of taking young children for pediatric eye exams to help prevent potential eye and vision problems which can lead to difficulties in school such as reading deficits.
What is a pediatric eye exam?
A pediatric eye examination is conducted separately from and in addition to the typical eye screening performed in a typical wellness visit or by the school nurse.
When should the first pediatric eye exam take place?
Although younger babies can be examined, the first comprehensive evaluation is usually done when infants are 6 to 12 months old.
How Important is Vision in Learning to Read?
As children grow older, their visual needs change. The ability to read is universally recognized as the most important basic academic skill. Reading opens up the pathways to learning across the curriculum, and any child who cannot read is at a serious disadvantage. Reading is a complex cognitive process involving translation of symbols into sounds or into visual representations of speech.
Children in Pre-K and Kindergarten use their eyes to learn how to identify letters, and eventually how to read. For most children, learning to read is not a problem, but for some it can be an ongoing struggle.
Reading requires not only good vision, but also involves both physical and cognitive skills including:
- psychological development
- phonological awareness
A child must be able to recognize letters and words, gain understanding from what is being read, remember it, and use it.
Good vision also involves the ability to take incoming visual information, process that information, and obtain meaning from it. Simply having 20/20 vision is not enough. For fluent reading, one must have clear and sharp eyesight, be able to focus their eyes on the page, and be able to comfortably keep that focus for a long period of time, in addition to quickly shifting focus at the end of lines and pages.
They must also be able to coordinate their eye movements so that both eyes are pointing at the same place at the same time and accurately and quickly jump from one word to another or from the end of one line to the start of another. As they read, they must also interpret and accurately process and decode what they are reading to give it meaning. As you can see, the process of learning to read is much more complex that just identifying letters.
Many reading difficulties are attributed to problems such as attention deficits, a disability, or even lack of motivation or maturity. However, pediatric eye exams can help determine if there may be an underlying problem before it negatively impacts classroom performance. When vision problems are identified early, less time is wasted on incorrect diagnoses or assumptions.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) established the InfantSEE program in 2005. The InfantSEE program provides a one-time, no charge comprehensive vision and eye assessment to infants in their first year of life irrespective of income or insurance status. For more information on the program, contact 888-396-3937 or go to Infantsee.org.