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 Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) 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 to know how vision does — and does not — play a role.
The first hint that Quinn Kirby had a serious — but correctable — vision problem was during a preliminary screening at her pediatrician’s office. Quinn, a bright, lively little girl who was four at the time, couldn’t name the pictures or letters, which frustrated her, since she knew her alphabet. The pediatrician and Quinn’s mom, Kris, agreed on sending Quinn to a pediatric ophthalmologist, an Eye M.D. who cares for children, for a comprehensive eye exam.
The exam determined that Quinn’s vision was 20/30 in her right eye and 8/200 in the left, compared with 20/20 normal vision. Her 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. Their Eye M.D. asked 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.
“Quinn’s story illustrates how vision screening and proper treatment can make a big difference to a child’s future,” said Daniel Neely, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Indiana University and Chair of the AAPOS Vision Screening Committee. “When a potential problem is found, a comprehensive eye exam by 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 neurological exams and treatment. And, whether or not learning disabilities are suspected, all students need vision screening to check eye health and visual acuity.
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 five-and-a-half, with 20/25 vision in her right eye and 20/30 in the left. She loves being able to do whatever 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 three months of persuasion, 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.
About American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
AAPOS is the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. The organization's goals are to advance the quality of children's eye care, support the training of pediatric ophthalmologists, support research activities in pediatric ophthalmology, and advance the care of adults with strabismus. Further information regarding vision screening and many other topics on childhood eye problems can be found at www.aapos.org.
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