So when is it appropriate for your child to have an eye examination with an optometrist?
Believe it or not, children should have their first eye examination with an optometrist (also known as a Doctor of Optometry) before the age of one, ideally between six and nine months of age. When I tell parents this, I often get a look of disbelief accompanied with, “how do you do an eye exam on a baby?!” Of course with children this young, their eye exam is going to be very different from the eye exam you might be used to as an adult.
This early examination enables us to ensure that your child’s eyes are healthy, aligned, and focusing the way they should be, so that their eyes and vision can develop properly. There are some serious eye conditions with not-so-obvious (if any) symptoms that can affect young children, which can lead to significant and sometimes permanent vision problems if left untreated. Examples of such conditions include amblyopia and congenital cataracts, among others.
If all is normal at this early infant exam, usually we recommend another eye exam during preschool, and then yearly exams throughout the school years. Vision can frequently change as children are growing, and we want to ensure that your child is always seeing to their best ability so that they may achieve their fullest potential both in and out of school.
With all this in mind, however, if you ever have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s eyes, regardless of age or time of last eye exam, you should always bring them in to have their eyes checked. Children’s eye exams are covered by OHIP until your child turns twenty years old!
So what if your child has had a vision screening at school?
While vision screenings are very good at picking up kids who are nearsighted, they aren’t so good at identifying children who have significant farsightedness or astigmatism or difficulty using the eyes together. Two out of five children who have a significant vision problem actually pass school vision screenings, which is two too many, considering 60% of students who have been identified as “problem learners” actually have undetected vision problems.
Over his 35 years of practice, Dr. Ginter has seen many cases in which a child had already been diagnosed with a learning disability, when in fact the problem was really just weak eye muscles, easily corrected with some eye exercises, but missed through a screening. And even in my own experience, I have seen children who passed their school vision screening, but needed and benefited tremendously with spectacle correction or eye exercises.
We truly believe that children should have their eyes examined thoroughly in an office setting with an optometrist, and an adult caregiver available to discuss the findings with. Why? Well, as optometrists, we have at least four years of specialized training in just eyes! So if your child has an eye or vision issue, you can bet we are the best equipped to diagnose and manage it! Additionally, in our permanent office setup, we have our full gamut of equipment and tools available at our fingertips to enable us to accurately diagnose and manage various common and uncommon conditions in the most effective way possible. We also feel that it’s really important to have parents available to discuss exam findings with. Sometimes the end result of eye examination isn’t as straightforward as glasses vs. no glasses and a next exam in one year. Sometimes, we want to monitor a condition in a few months or have more information to share with you as parents and guardians, to help you understand your child’s vision so that we can together help your child achieve their fullest potential.
Have you heard about Eye See… Eye Learn®?
If you live in Durham region and are the parents of a junior kindergarten student, you may be receiving a notice from your child’s school regarding a great Ontario Association of Optometrists and Government of Ontario initiative called Eye See… Eye Learn®. This program raises awareness of the importance of eye exams during the school years by encouraging parents to bring their children in for a comprehensive in-office eye exam. If your child is in JK, and we determine that he or she needs glasses, they will be FREE (thanks to the incredible generosity of Nikon Lenswear, OGI Eyewear, and Dr. Ginter’s office)! Eye exams are covered by OHIP, as they are for all children aged nineteen and younger.
But what if your child isn’t having any trouble seeing or hasn’t complained?
Whenever I meet someone new who has children, I try to recommend that they take their children in for an eye exam, if they haven’t already. Even if they have no problems seeing things; even if they aren’t having problems at school or in other activities.
The thing about kids, is that they typically don’t know what normal vision is. If they’ve always seen a certain way, they assume everyone sees that way. And if they think everyone sees the way they do, why would they complain about it? Also, kids are awesome adapters and quite often, kids who do have vision issues will adapt to their environment so well, that even the people who spend the most time with them, won’t be able to tell there’s a problem.
So seemingly, they function fine. But when we get down to the nitty gritty and measure their vision capabilities, they may not be seeing as well as they should be. Think about it this way: if a child has to put in 100% of their effort into trying to see something, they’re not going to have anything left to try and interpret or understand it, and therefore truly learn it. These children will struggle with learning.
If a vision issue exists, early intervention is key. Younger children respond much better to treatment than older ones; and unfortunately, with some of these conditions, if we don’t identify and start treating soon enough, the correctable vision issue may become a permanent problem.
Having that first eye exam early on, and then having regular, yearly checkups will ensure that your child is always seeing to the best of their ability, giving them the greatest opportunity to achieve their fullest potential! So pick up the phone and book an appointment for your child today! Give your child a chance at healthy, clear, comfortable vision.
Doctors of Optometry CanadaTM are giving away big prizes for Children’s Vision Month! Click here to enter!