Q: My son’s fourth grade teacher tells me that she suspects he has a vision problem. What symptoms should I see if this is true?
A: It almost always comes as a surprise, but in the vast majority of cases, kids who aren’t seeing properly do not complain to anyone. I suppose that they are just like adults, but without the perspective of knowing “normal” versus “not normal” that most adults do. They simply assume that everyone sees just like they do.
Unfortunately, most vision problems do not cause any discomfort or pain or headaches. And typically, vision deficits develop slowly or were present from birth. In our practice, we see children almost every single day who desperately need vision correction, but no one has noticed. The number of children with blurry vision we discover would truly surprise you. And sadden you.
These kids are generally struggling in school to read the board and get the instructions or lessons correctly. Often, observant teachers have already moved those children up to the front row to assist their seeing. Of course, just as with adults, many kids have one eye seeing well and one not. Our brains are very adept at “using” only the good vision eye, and suppressing the unclear eye. Even vision screenings miss or misdiagnose a lot of kids. There is just no substitute for a professional pediatric eye examination. None.
Part of the difficulty is that children with severe farsightedness or astigmatism often pass the distance vision screening — checking vision at 20 feet — but cannot focus up close for reading. These kids are tougher to find, but the treatment really open a world of comfortable easy reading for them!
In West Virginia, we have no requirement for a real eye exam before children enter school. Sad, but true. I would recommend every child have a complete pediatric eye examination by an eye physician this time of year. Generally, this should occur by age 3, and again at first grade. Then every year or two through high school, as directed by your eye doctor. The bottom line: you simply cannot wait to hear complaints from your kids about their vision. These are “silent” problems, but correctable problems. Be proactive. Make learning easy.
DR. THOMAS STOUT, OD, FAAO is an eye physician in private practice at Morgantown Eye Associates. Info: MorgantownEye.com.