Routine Eye Examinations for Children
Annual eye examinations are an OHIP covered service for children from birth up the age of 19 years old. The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends that a child have his first eye exam at the age of 6 months.
Our visual system is not mature at the time of birth. Vision is acquired as a child develops through movement, learning and visual experiences. It is very important that vision problems are detected early in order to allow normal visual development and this can only be accomplished through comprehensive yearly eye examinations with a Doctor of Optometry.
Vision is Incredibly Important for both Academic and Social Learning.
Research estimates that approximately 80% of academic learning occurs directly through the visual system. Children who cannot see the board clearly and comfortably, are unable to write efficiently or cannot keep their place on the page while reading a book may struggle to achieve their full academic potential. At present, approximately 1 in 4 school-aged children has a vision problem severe enough to impact their ability to learn. Vision problems can also affect a child’s social development and hand-eye coordination. This can impact their performance in sports and even cause clumsiness during basic daily living skills.
Our vision allows us to gather information from our environment. It allows us to identify what we see and its’ location relative to our body. In order to respond to incoming visual information appropriately, the brain also has to integrate the visual sense with other sensory systems, including auditory information and proprioception (where each part of our body is in space). The process of writing is a great example of a visual feedback loop. The brain repeatedly sends signals between the motor neurons guiding your hand and the visual system, which sees the quality and location of the letters and words you are forming. Our visual system is even linked to the emotional centres of the brain. Imagine looking at a picture of a loved one or a scene from your favourite vacation and how that visual stimuli makes you feel.
There are over 17 different visual skills that are needed for reading and learning. If any of these skills is inefficient, it creates an unnecessary barrier to learning that can result in lack of interest, reduced performance and even behavioural issues such as reduced attention span which can mimic symptoms of ADHD or other learning disabilities.
There Are Many Visual Skills Required When Reading.
When reading, not only must an individual see things clearly, but they must also have good eye movement skills to see and process words in sequence and they must have the appropriate focussing muscle skills to sustain clear vision at near over time. In addition, the child’s eyes must maintain normal eye alignment in order to keep the words single. All of these processes must then be integrated with higher level cognitive processing in order to comprehend and remember the words that were read.
Oculomotor skills, accommodation, vergence, visual perceptual skills, and binocularity are just some of the aspects of vision that have been found to statistically impact learning, but most especially reading.
Children Don’t Grow Out of Significant Vision Problems. Children with Vision Problems Become Adults with Vision Problems.
Multiple studies have found a link between visual dysfunctions and juvenile delinquency. Some researchers found that approximately 70% of juvenile delinquents have a visual deficit. One theory is that vision problems impair learning which makes it difficult to achieve academically and amongst their peers. This may lead to low self-esteem, feeling of failure and a disinterest in reading and academics. Other behaviours which pre-dispose children to criminal activities are developed as a consequence. In one California based study, recidivism (repeat offenders) reduced from 45% to only 16% when the wards received on-site optometric vision therapy at the Regional Youth Education Facility in San Bernardino, California.
Learning Disabilities Can Be Misdiagnosed. Learning Disabilities Are Often Multi-Factorial and Can Occur for a Multitude of Reasons.
As vision and learning are intimately connected, a vision problem can easily be mistaken for a learning problem. Children can be misdiagnosed with learning disabilities, ADHD or dyslexia when they have undiagnosed vision problems. This occurs because many of the behaviours of a visual deficit are the same as the behaviours associated with learning disabilities. For example, children with vision problems and children with ADHD both have difficulty sustaining attention on their academic work. Educators, parents, Doctors of Optometry and other health care practitioners need to work together to ensure that vision problems are ruled out before the label of a learning disability is applied.
It is important to know that behavioural and developmental optometrists do not treat learning disabilities directly. Instead, they treat the visual factors which may be exacerbating a learning disability. There may also be physiological, psychological, developmental, environmental, genetic, behavioural or social factors that have lead to a child being diagnosed as learning disabled. However, vision is a very important factor that is often overlooked.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists recommends that children receive their first eye examination at the age of 6 months old. While this may seem very early, our Optometrists at Ottawa Valley Vision are knowledgeable and experienced in pediatric eye care. We also have all the extra tools and equipment necessary to effectively examine the eyes of a child at this age. Since infants cannot communicate verbally, our Optometrists use preferential looking techniques to determine what your child can see. We are also able to check for crucial eye health factors and visual skills such as eye teaming, peripheral visual awareness, pupil reactions, and significant glasses prescriptions.
Children should have their eyes examined again at two years old and on an annual basis thereafter to ensure that their eyes and vision continue to develop properly. There are many visual skills that develop between the ages of two and seven years old including eye teaming, eye tracking and eye focussing. It is also important to detect any eye health issues, near-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia), or astigmatism that may interfere with your child’s ability to learn both at home in their early years and later, in an academic setting.