80% of a child’s learning is visual in nature. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), one in four school children has an undiagnosed vision problem. A vision problem, such as blurry or double vision, can cause problems not only with grades, but also with behavior in school, as children struggle to comprehend and absorb information that they cannot clearly see. Many of these children are misdiagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, or various behavioral problems. Children who can see clearly perform significantly better in school than their peers who do not.
Unfortunately, not being aware that the way they see is not normal, most children do not tell us if they see blurry, double, or if words move around when they try to read. The AOA recommends that children be examined by an eye doctor, either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, when they are 6 months old, three years old, five years old, and every year while they are in school. Of course, if you suspect your child has a vision problem, they can be brought to a qualified eye doctor at any age. It is a persistent myth that it is pointless to bring a child to the eye doctor before they know their letters or can respond to our favorite question (“Which is better – one or two?”). Even without accurate responses to our questions, eye doctors are trained to determine if a glasses prescription is necessary to help a child or a non-verbal adult.
What are some of the signs that might indicate that your child has a vision problem that would warrant an exam by an eye doctor?
Avoiding reading or using a computer because it hurts their eyes.
Constantly focusing up close, as opposed to relaxing our focusing muscles and looking far away, puts strain on those muscles. Normally, our focusing muscles can overcome this strain, and children remain symptom-free. However, when a vision problem exists, such as blurry vision or eyes that do not like to work together as they should, that can cause the focusing system to work several times harder than it is meant to, leading to eye strain, headaches, or a general feeling of tired eyes.
Closing one eye to read or watch TV.
Closing one eye while focusing on something often indicates that the eyes are not working as the team they should be. An eye doctor can identify the problem, and determine if the condition can be treated with a pair of glasses, or if vision therapy (in which a vision therapist designs an exercise program for the eyes to strengthen weak eye muscles) will be the best solution for your child.
Frequent eye rubbing.
Many of us rub our eyes, especially if we are feeling tired or upset. However, if your child is rubbing their eyes when they are focusing on something, such as a computer, TV, or reading, that may indicate an eye alignment or a focusing problem and should be brought to an eye doctor’s attention.
A side note on eye rubbing: recent studies have linked habitual eye rubbing with the development of keratoconus later in life. Keratoconus is where the clear front part of the eye, the cornea, thins and weakens, then starts to bulge outwards, causing distorted vision that cannot be fixed with glasses. Please discourage your kids from developing an eye-rubbing habit, as it could have devastating visual consequences down the road.
Frequently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too closely.
While most children occasionally sit too close to the TV, or hold a book up to their face, if your child makes a habit of doing so, this may be a sign they are nearsighted, or their vision is clearer up close and blurry far away. It is a myth, however, that sitting too close to the TV will ruin your eyes.
Losing one’s place while reading, or needing to use a finger to read.
When children first start to read and are sounding out letters, it is normal for them to use a finger to help guide them in keeping their place. However, eventually they should be able to read without using their finger or losing their place. Skipping words or lines, or repeating lines, can also indicate a vision problem that should be addressed by an eye doctor.
Squinting, or tilting the head to see the board better in class.
Nowadays, teachers are trained to watch for this behavior in class, and to recommend that the child’s parents schedule an eye exam for the student. While waiting for the eye exam to be performed, it may help to move the student to the front of the classroom.
We hope that this post provides some useful information for you and your family. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision, please do not hesitate to bring them to an eye doctor for an evaluation. If no glasses are needed and the eyes are working well, you will have the comfort of knowing that your child is visually prepared for the challenges school will present. If there is a vision problem, getting it corrected early will provide your child the highest quality of life in their journey through school and beyond.
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