Many children struggle in school. While not all learning issues can be attributed to a single cause, vision can play a role, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.
According to Dr. Jamie Rosenberg, an optometrist at Cleveland Eye Clinic’s Cleveland and Bedford offices, and Dr. Jenny Thatcher, optometrist and owner of Beachwood Family Eye Care in Beachwood, it’s important to start the school year with an eye exam.
“Children, especially younger ones, often don’t realize or complain about not seeing well, so it’s important to get their eyes checked to make sure they are seeing the best they can,” Thatcher said. “They could be getting headaches or eye fatigue, so it can be really difficult for them to focus and read, and know what is going on in class.”
Thatcher suggested children start getting eye exams around six months old to rule out any major issues. After that, exams should be yearly after age 3, or right before they start kindergarten.
“Especially with children, their eyes can change pretty quickly in a year, especially when they get to puberty age,” Thatcher explained. “So, it’s best to get those exams pretty regularly.”
Rosenberg said most children don’t even know they can’t see well, so they don’t know to say anything about their vision issues. They assume what they’re going through is normal, she said.
“For adults, we know that if we can’t see something up close or have trouble reading a road sign, that it’s abnormal,” she noted. “But kids don’t know that. So, by bringing them in, we can see how well they are seeing and if they aren’t seeing well, learning will be much more difficult when school starts.”
Rosenberg added children are pretty good at hiding things, especially if something is wrong.
“Kids are good at hiding high prescription needs and they can get good at squinting and focusing when they need to,” she said. “So, they could be getting by in class, but then they’re doing a lot of extra work they don’t need to be doing. They could focus that energy on learning.”
Yearly exams at the beginning of the school year can catch vision issues that the child, and their parents, may not know about.
“Most people assume that having a lazy eye means one eye is turned out, but you can still have a lazy eye when both of them are turned correctly,” Rosenberg explained. “So, when one eye can see fine but the other needs correction, the brain will only focus through the good eye. It won’t make a connection with the eye that is seeing poorly. It’s about helping the bad eye contribute, and since kids are still developing, the bad eye can catch up.”
But during most yearly eye exams, Thatcher said parents can find out if their child needs glasses.
“If they need a pair of glasses, we’re able to catch that so they can see the board at school or read,” she said. “If glasses alone aren’t enough, we can recommend vision therapy and exercises to strengthen their eye muscles.”
Thatcher added issues occur in the younger generation more often now due to exposure to their devices and blue light.
“With eye tests, children’s focusing muscles are kind of stuck from being on their phone right before an exam or class, or with excessive electronic usage,” she said. “That can directly affect how they perform in school with reading and focusing.”
If a parent is concerned about how vision can impact learning, they should consult a professional.
“These kids aren’t seeing well so learning will, of course, be more difficult, you don’t want them to spend a lot of energy on trying to see clearly,” Rosenberg noted. “There isn’t any reason for children to not have an exam. Kids will be kids so there aren’t any behavioral changes for parents to be concerned about. But, they should still get it all checked out to make their child’s academic life as easy as possible in the future.”