Vision screening is essential to early detection of problems that impact learning and quality of life
SAN FRANCISCO – As children return to school, parents naturally consider how to help their children learn and succeed. Good vision and eye health are key to students’ ability to do well in the classroom, on the playground, in sports, and when studying at home. September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages families to make sure students receive vision screening and learn eye health and safety practices. Also, it’s important for parents of children with learning disabilities (PDF 192K) to know how vision does–and does not–play a role.
Mary Lou Collins, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist in the Baltimore, Md. area, said Quinn Kirby’s story illustrates how screening can make a big difference to a child’s future. Quinn is a bright, lively little girl whom Dr. Collins initially saw at age four.
The first hint that Quinn might have a vision problem was picked up in her pediatrician's office. In a preliminary screening Quinn couldn’t name the pictures or letters–and she expressed a lot of frustration about that, since she knew her alphabet. Dr. Doran and Quinn’s mom, Kris, agreed on sending her to Dr. Collins for a comprehensive exam.
“We found that Quinn’s vision was 20/30 in her right eye and 8/200 in the left, compared with 20/20 normal vision,” Dr. Collins said. “Quinn’s stronger eye was doing most of the work, and her other eye was becoming weaker as a result, a condition called amblyopia. Also, Quinn’s weaker eye was slightly turned inward (one variation of a condition called strabismus), but this was too subtle to be noticed, except in an exam.”
Her parents take excellent care of their kids’ health, and so were stunned by the news. Dr. Collins told them not to blame themselves, as such vision problems are nearly impossible to detect–especially in young children–except through vision screening by a school nurse, pediatrician, or other qualified health provider. When a potential problem is revealed, a comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist (an Eye M.D.) is the best way to determine whether vision correction or other treatment is needed.
Parents may have questions on how the eyes and vision interact with learning disabilities in children. Learning disabilities result from the brain's misinterpretation of images received and relayed by the eyes, rather than from structural or functional eye problems. That’s why learning disabilities are not treatable by eye exercises or vision therapy. If learning disabilities are suspected, students need testing, followed as appropriate by in-depth exams and treatment. And whether or not learning disabilities are suspected, all students need vision screening to check visual acuity and eye health.
Kris, who teaches third grade, said some of her students’ learning struggles might have been avoided if they had had vision screening and treatment when they entered kindergarten, or as soon as vision or learning problems were suspected.
“I’d encourage all parents to make sure your children get screened at school, at your pediatrician’s office, or through another health service,” Kris said. “My husband and I are grateful that Quinn’s problem was discovered and treated early. She’s now almost 5 ½, with 20/25 vision in her right eye and 20/30 in the left. She loves being able to do what ever her big brother does and enjoys reading with us.”
Her treatment included glasses–at first with very thick lenses–but Kris says Quinn liked choosing the pink and purple frames and didn’t mind wearing them. The eye patch treatment was a different story: after her family patiently persuaded her for a few months, Quinn agreed to wear the patch over her stronger eye for about eight hours daily, so that her weaker eye took on the work of seeing and developed more normally. “Actually, she insisted all of us wear patches along with her. Quinn and my husband in their daisy eye patches were famous at our local market!” Kris added.
Read more about children's eye safety at home and school, and when playing sports.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons—Eye M.D.s—with more than 27,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three “O’s” – opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy's Web site at www.aao.org.