Does Your Child Need Glasses?
"I don't want to do my homework," wailed Seth when he was 6. "My eyes hurt." This is how I began another evening, attempting to get my first-grader through his math and spelling homework. It was weeks before I realized that he wasn't just stalling and looking for excuses to skip homework.
My son's eyes really were hurting, so I made an appointment to have them checked. "Seth is farsighted," reported my optometrist, Dr. Daniel Mason. "He's having to work harder to read and to focus on any close-up schoolwork."
Mason provided a simple solution: a pair of glasses that traveled to school with Seth to use during math and reading. He didn't need corrective lenses for recess or for his many sports activities. And it was quite likely that his farsightedness would correct itself in the years to come.
Like many parents, I made sure my children began regular visits to the dentist at an early age. But other than the routine eye screening given as part of a physical in their pediatrician's office, I didn't have my children's eyes checked on a regular basis.
Only one in three children in America has received eye-care services before their sixth birthday, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although one in four preschoolers has a vision problem. Sadly, children who have undiagnosed vision disorders can become frustrated in school and labeled with learning disorders or behavioral problems.
If left untreated, vision disorders such as amblyopia, or "lazy eye," and strabismus, or "crossed eyes," severely impair children's vision as they grow older, according to Prevent Blindness America (PBA). But the good news is that through early detection and treatment by a licensed eye-care professional, the effects of these conditions can be minimal and, in some cases, completely corrected.
PBA recommends a professional examination for every child shortly after birth. The child should be examined again at 6 months and before entering school (age 4 or 5). Even though most schools provide some sort of eye screening, it is not a substitute for a complete eye examination.
Signs of potential vision problems
Listen to what your child is saying and look for clues. If you notice him squinting while watching TV or playing video games, it might be time to have his eyes checked. PBA notes that children who rub their eyes excessively, shut or cover one eye, tilt their head forward, complain of headaches or blink more than usual should be taken in for an eye exam.
"The best time to take your child in for a complete eye exam is when they first start school," Mason concludes. "That's when a child's vision becomes put to the test on a more regular basis."
With the onset of formal schooling, a child's daily tasks are more likely to involve close-up work. As I found out with a first-grader learning to read, this is when a vision problem can become more evident.
"I've watched children who have struggled in the classroom really turn around - both their attitude and their achievements - when they have their vision corrected," says Mary Dufner, a second-grade teacher.
Correcting vision problems
"It's also important to let your child's teacher know that he wears glasses and what he wears them for," says sixth-grader teacher Laurie Humphrey.
"As kids become adolescents, they are more and more concerned about how they look. Involve your child in picking out their frames and pay attention to whether the child feels comfortable in their glasses," Humphrey advises. "This way they'll wear their glasses in class and reap all the benefits. I find it helpful to show my students pictures of positive, famous role models who wear glasses. It encourages some students with self-esteem issues to feel better about being a little bit different."
Most eye doctors will prescribe glasses, when needed, for younger patients. But as children move toward their teens, they may want to begin experimenting with contact lenses. With the wide variety of disposable lens now available at competitive prices, your teen caring for the contacts is less of a concern. Talk with your eye-care professional about the options.
Claire Yezbak Fadden is an award-winning freelance writer and mother of three.
Planning a Trip to the Eye Doctor?
Here are some suggestions to make that first trip to the optometrist's office more successful.
- Ask your relatives, friends and neighbors if they know an eye doctor who is good with children.
- Schedule the appointment when your little one is not likely to be sleepy or hungry. If your child has a cranky time of day, schedule around it.
- Make a list of your questions and take it to the appointment. Make notes when speaking to the doctor so that you can refer to them later.
- Have a plan ready in case you need to spend time in the waiting room. Pack a favorite storybook. A small toy that your child can play with quietly or a snack can also help to pass the time.
- Let your child watch a family member get an eye exam. Have the doctor explain what is being done, step by step, and encourage the child to ask questions.
- For very young children, bring along your child's favorite cuddly toy. The doctor can examine the doll or teddy bear and holding a toy may keep little hands busy around expensive equipment.
- Relax. Children will look to adults for cues. If you seem nervous, your child may become anxious.
Courtesy of Prevent Blindness America, www.preventblindness.org