By: Cheryl Maguire
“You need glasses,” the Ophthalmologist said to me.
I was twelve years old. My mom was shocked since I had never complained of unclear vision and no one else in our family had poor eyesight. The reason I had gone to the doctor was because I failed the school screening exam. My vision had become gradually worse so I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.
I remember when I first wore glasses thinking to myself, “Everything seems so clear and crisp. I can see the tips of leaves on a tree and easily read street signs.” I had thought it was normal to see the world a little bit blurry.
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. This issue is important to me since my vision has significantly declined from the time of my initial diagnoses over thirty years ago. Even though I am nearsighted (which means I can only see close up and need glasses for far away), without my glasses or contact lenses, I wouldn’t be able to read anything on a computer screen word document—it’s just a white blur with black lines—since my vision is so poor. I asked my eye doctor if I am considered legally blind; it turns out I’m not since my vision can still be corrected with glasses.
According to the website LetsGoSee.net, one in four children has a vision problem. The CDC states that, Amblyopia, or lazy eye is the most common cause of vision loss in children which can be treated if caught early between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. The website Prevent Blindness found the most common vision disorders in children are myopia (nearsightedness or trouble seeing far away), hyperopia (farsightedness or trouble seeing close up), and astigmatism (blurry vision at all distances).
The Urban Child Institute states that correcting poor vision can foster a child’s cognitive and social development. The American Optometric Association estimates 80% of a child’s learning happens through observation. In the classroom, most of the teaching is done by displaying the information. Children learn social skills from seeing facial expressions and body language.
Similar to my experience, children may be unaware of the fact that their vision is not normal. This may lead to feeling frustrated about being unable to see the words in a book or on the board in the classroom causing a child to act out. The American Optometric Association states, “Some children with learning difficulties exhibit specific behaviors of hyperactivity and distractibility. These children are often labeled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, undetected and untreated vision problems can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms commonly attributed to ADHD. Due to these similarities, some children may be mislabeled as having ADHD when, in fact, they have an undetected vision problem.”
Pediatric Optometry lists the following as signs that may indicate your child could have a vision problem:
- Head Tilt: If your child has a problem with their ocular muscles or nerves. they will attempt to compensate by tilting their head.
- Sitting Too Close To The T.V.: If your child is nearsighted, they will attempt to compensate for this by moving closer to the T.V or other reading materials.
- Avoidance of Reading: If your child has poor visual skills and eye teaming skills, they will compensate for this by avoiding reading. Reading uses many complex eye movements and poor visual skills may cause your child to become frustrated easily.
- Frequent Headaches: You child may have headaches because he/she is over strained using all of their energy to align, focus, and use their eyes.
- Laterality Problem: If your child has poor directional skills and often confuses left and right, it could be due to poor vision. Proper oculocentric location is dependent on vision and laterality depends, in part, upon oculocentric location.
- Finger Pointing: If your child has poor vision tracking skills, they may use their finger to compensate for their poor tracking ability.
- Can’t Copy From The Board: Your child may have difficulty with accommodation, the ability to change focus between far and near. This is essential for success in school.
- Squinting: Your child may squint because this narrows a bundle of light entering the eye which allows for sharper vision. Your child may be squinting because this act compensates for blurry vision.
- Poor Hand/Eye Coordination: This skill is required for everything from writing notes in class to playing ball with friends. Clear vision and adequate visual skills are required to create an accurate link between vision and other body movements.
- Eye Rubbing / Squinting: This is a basic response to ocular discomfort. It typically occurs when one’s eyes are strained or have been working much to hard to complete a task. Squinting is used to narrow a bundle of light entering the eye which allows for sharper vision. Your child may be squinting because this act compensates for blurry vision.
If your child is experiencing one of these symptoms, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor. There are two different types of eye doctors which are called an ophthalmologists and optometrists. An ophthalmologists went to medical school and a 1 year internship followed by a 3 year residency. These types of doctors can provide total eye care services. An optometrists did not attend medical school. Instead these types of doctors went to a 4 year professional program and received a doctor of optometry degree. The main focus of optometrists is to prescribe glasses and contact lenses. Due to my poor vision and the fact that I have had other vision issues, I go to an ophthalmologist every two years for a checkup and to receive updated prescriptions for my glasses and contacts.
Even though my mother didn’t think I would need glasses when I was twelve years old, she took me to see the eye doctor. I’m grateful she did.