Functioning and healthy eyesight play a considerable role in a child’s development and education.
As much as 80% of all learning is visual, and experts estimate that over half of childhood learning difficulties trace back to undiagnosed vision problems. How can parents help ensure their child doesn’t experience the setbacks of an undiagnosed vision problem?
How Do So Many Vision Problems Go Undiagnosed?
The simple, unfortunate reality is that children don’t have the life experience to recognize the difference between what their eyesight should be like and what it’s actually like. They think their experience is universal, which makes it much harder for them to describe a problem to an adult. It might manifest as fidgety, distracted behavior, failure to complete assigned tasks, or general crankiness.
Adults will often decide they are misbehaving instead of looking for an underlying problem, and the takeaway for the child is that their best effort isn’t good enough. They may end up believing that they aren’t good learners or that school isn’t fun, even though the reality is simply that they can’t see well and could get help for it.
The School Nurse Can’t Catch Every Eye Problem
Children’s inability to self-report their vision problems isn’t the only obstacle toward diagnosis. Many children never receive comprehensive eye exams, relying only on the school nurse and the big E chart. The problem is that a school nurse is not an eye doctor, and the big E chart can only diagnose nearsightedness. It WON’T diagnose any of the following:
Amblyopia (lazy eye): worse vision in only one eye, which can lead to irreversible vision loss if left untreated.
Astigmatism: a refractive error that causes blurry vision but not always in a way that a vision screening will catch. Most cases can be corrected with glasses or contacts.
Convergence insufficiency: the eyes tend to drift outward when trying to focus on near objects, making close work difficult.
Farsightedness: near objects are blurry but distant objects are clear.
Strabismus: the misalignment of the eyes where one or both turns up, down, in, or out. This can be corrected with patching, special glasses, or surgery.
Signs Parents Can Observe
A few eye problems have pronounced symptoms, such as constant squinting or an eye pointing the wrong way, but others require more training to catch. You can keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms if you’re wondering whether it’s time to bring your child in for a comprehensive eye exam:
Frequent blinking and eye rubbing
A shorter attention span, especially for reading and other close work
Difficulty reading or a tendency to avoid it
A tendency to cover one eye
A habit of tilting the head to one side
A tendency to hold reading materials very close
Difficulty remembering words they just read
Frequently losing their place while reading
Don’t Delay a Comprehensive Eye Exam for Your Child
As parents, we want to give our children the best chance to succeed. Too few parents know the difference a comprehensive eye exam can make by catching a treatable eye problem that would interfere with their child’s education and development. We’re trying to get the word out! Not only are some of these eye problems often undiagnosed — sometimes they’re even misdiagnosed as learning or attention disorders.