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Childhood vision problems and early education

Undiagnosed vision problems may affect a large number of young children, leading to problems in early education.

Only 14 percent of children under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye/vision examination, said Don Lyon, chief of pediatric and binocular vision for the Indiana University Bloomington School of Optometry. Poor eyesight, inadequate visual information processing, problems with focusing and problems with eye movements all can interfere with students' education by making reading more challenging, causing headaches and making it difficult for students to follow classroom instruction such as demonstrations on a chalkboard.

"A large number of children probably have a vision problem that is not being diagnosed and properly treated. A thorough eye and vision examination can help students avoid these educational hurdles," Lyon said.

Optometrists not only check vision and prescribe glasses, they also diagnose and manage amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (eye turn), eye focusing issues, lack of eye teaming skills, eye strain associated with prolonged near activities (reading or computer work) and eye disease.

The American Public Health Association recommends eye exams at the ages of 6 months, 2 years and 4 years and then every other year while the child is in school, unless there is a reason for more frequent visits.

"An eye exam at 6 months of age, if done properly, can give us as much information at that age as would an exam when the patient was an adult," Lyon said.

Some states, including Indiana, require all kindergarteners or first graders to receive a vision screening exam unless the school system receives a waiver from the state.

"Parents should not wait for the results of a screening to see if their child needs an eye examination and they should not rely on the vision screening as being the only source of eye care. All children, infants to adolescents, need to have appropriate health and vision care and that means comprehensive vision examinations to rule out disease and other vision issues that could affect children in the classroom and the rest of their lives," Lyon said.

InfantSee, a program of the American Optometric Association, provides free assessments from participating optometrists for infants from birth to 1 year of age. A listing of optometrists participating in the program can be found at http://www.aoa.org.