Vision and learning go beyond 20/20 sight

Dr. Murray Adams

This is the time of year that we start making our back to school checklist.

Is an annual eye exam on your list? The world health organization reports that between 75-90% of our learning comes through vision.

The Kentucky government has a law that states all children entering the Kentucky public school system must have their eyes checked by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist. The purpose of this initial eye examination is not solely to check for 20/20 vision but to be certain each child does not have other visual difficulties that could impair visual function or efficiency.

Many incorrectly assume a child who passes their school screening, has no vision problems. School screenings, very often test only for distance 20/20 acuity and can miss the complex visual skills needed for successful reading and learning.

We used to think 20/20 vision was enough to allow a child to succeed in school, but we now know that vision and learning go far beyond 20/20.

If your child is not performing to their capabilities, there may be a visual problem impeding their performance. When your child receives an annual eye exam, your eye doctor is not only looking for good vision and health, they are evaluating how well the eyes work together and how efficiently they function.

Children often do not complain of visual difficulties, however, there are clues that can help you gain insight to the possibility your child may be having problems.

• Does your child avoid reading for school or pleasure? Do they experience discomfort or fatigue in or around their eyes after only a few minutes of near point work? This may indicate a reduced ability to fully converge their eyes or use their eyes together.

• Is your child reading/writing/typing closer than a normal distance? This may indicate a problem with their focusing system. The appropriate and age-adjusted reading distance is easy to determine. Have your child place their knuckles on the bottom of their chin. The reading material should be no closer than their elbow. This should provide a comfortable distance for book reading. Excessive blinking may also indicate a focusing problem.

• Is your child squinting or turning their head to look out of the corner of their eyes to improve vision? If they already have glasses, you may notice them looking out of the side of the lenses to see more sharply. These are all signs of reduced visual clarity.

• Have you noticed your child confusing similar letters such as p,q,b,d? These letters have the same stroke of the pencil, but have a different orientation. You may notice them confusing similar words such as "was" and "saw." These may be vision perception problems relating to direction. These children also tend to struggle with quickly identifying their left and right.

• Does your child resist a specific eye being covered? Do their eyes turn in or out when they are tired? They may have a problem such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or an eye turn.

The overwhelming majority of vision problems can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Glasses are the healthiest option, but contact lenses are available when the child is mature enough to handle the insertion, removal and cleaning of contact lenses. Glasses have become a major fashion accessory.

Many lightweight and fashion-forward options are available. If your child has a more specific condition such as amblyopia (what many people call lazy eye) or dysfunctional eye movements, other treatments may be recommended, such as patching or vision therapy eye exercises.

I wish your child all the best this upcoming school year. The tips listed above will give you insight into your child's visual world and help to improve their chance at a successful school year. Remember to have your children's eyes checked yearly to ensure they can see clearly what they need to learn.

Dr. Murray Adams is an optometrist with Advantage Eye Care, 411 Park Plaza Drive. For more information, call Advantage Eye Care at 270-683-2020.

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