Back to school: Help your kids see and learn better

Teacher points to student with hand raised

Before your kids head back to school, you may want to have their vision screened.

According to the American Optometric Association, 80 percent of classroom learning takes place visually, including reading, writing or chalkboard work. ADC Optometrist Dr. Cindy Wasser says having a vision problem makes it harder for kids to learn.

“The extra effort needed to compensate for poor vision makes it more difficult to remember and understand what they see,” Dr. Wasser said. “When children try to read fuzzy words on a page or are unable to use their eyes together, their reading
performance suffers. This can lead to frustration and behavioral problems such as distractablity or hyperactivity at home and at school.”

Signs of vision problems

Dr. Wasser says vision problems can start at any age. Even preschoolers may not see as clearly as they should.

The most common vision problems in childhood are latent hyperopia (farsightedness), ambylopia (lazy eye), strabismus and myopia (nearsigthedness).

Signs of a vision problem include:

  • Avoid reading and other close activities
  • Short attention space
  • Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  • Frequent headaches
  • Covering one eye
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Holding reading materials close to the face
  • Losing place when reading
  • Difficulty remembering what is read

Vision skills for learning

In order to read and learn well, children need a series of visual skills that can be affected by eye problems.

  1. Visual acuity
    The ability to see clearly in the distance or close up
  2. Eye focusing
    The ability to maintain clear vision over time
  3. Eye tracking
    The ability to keep both eyes on a target
  4. Eye teaming
    The ability to coordinate and use both eyes together
  5. Eye-hand coordination
    The ability to use visual information to direct the hands
  6. Visual perception
    The ability to organize images on a page and understand and remember what is read

Pediatricians may give hearing and vision tests, and in some cases the tests may available directly through the school district. But just because a child passes a vision screening, doesn’t mean there is no vision problem.

Doctor manipulate eye exam instrument on boy

The American Optometric Association recommends a comprehensive optometric exam if a child exhibits any of the above vision problems or if they are struggling in school.

“School and pediatrician vision screenings are designed to detect gross vision problems,” Dr. Wasser said. “Often children can pass a screening and still have vision problems that can affect their learning and school performance. A comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist can detect vision problems a screening may miss. Also, a comprehensive eye exam includes an evaluation of your child’s eye health, which is not part of a vision screening.”

In a comprehensive exam, the doctor will check to see if the eyes can see clearly both near and far away, how the eyes work together, how the eyes see color, and overall eye health.

Plus, if vision problems are caught early, treatments are more effective.

“Eye glasses, contacts, and hearing aids are all effective treatment options that can make a huge difference in a child’s ability to succeed at school,” said Dr. Daniel Howard, ADC pediatrician. “But they only work if we know there’s a problem.”

Vision can change over time, so it’s important to remain vigilant. Dr. Wasser says school-aged children should have their eyes examined every year.