We are about to start the new school year here in Charleston. As a kid, I remember being sad when the summer was over, but also being excited about a new year ahead. The coolest part was seeing how much everyone had changed during the summer. Some people would come in and appear to have totally transformed themselves into new people, with new outlooks and new maturity. I still get excited for my son on the first day of school, because I remember this as a positive and fun thing to go through year after year, and I can feel his excitement as well.
This brings me to why I think every kid should have an eye exam. After the initial excitement wears off, and it will for most kids, we need to do our best to make it as easy as possible for them to be able to learn. What I mean by this is that some kids have issues that inhibit their ability to grasp concepts because they are paddling upstream trying to keep up with the demands placed on them. For example, some kids have attention issues (like I did!) or have processing deficits that make it hard for them to learn. But what most people don’t know is that there can be underlying eye issues that make things worse, not only for kids with learning disabilities, but also in perfectly “normal” kids. In fact, some kids that are diagnosed with learning disabilities might only have underlying eye issues that are causing the symptoms for which the learning disability is being diagnosed.
The eye issues I am referring to are typically not common nearsightedness or farsightedness problems. However farsightedness is something that typically goes undiagnosed, and will cause symptoms of headaches and eyestrain usually towards the middle or at the end of the school day. It is easily treated with a pair of glasses that the child can wear in the classroom and while doing homework.
Besides farsightedness, other undetected issues deal with how the child’s eyes work together to cover the demands of school work. When we look at a book, our eyes must converge inward so that both of them are pointed at the same thing. Convergence is controlled by external eye muscles that move our eyes where we want to look. At the same time, the internal eye muscles must contract so that the eyes can bring the page in focus. This is called the accommodation or focusing system.
The convergence and focusing systems must work together to see the book clearly and without double vision, which is what you’ll get if both eyes aren't pointing at the same thing at the same time. It is said that at least 1 in 10 elementary school kids have some form of binocular dysfunction such as this. Some of the symptoms are frontal and temporal headaches, words moving around on the page when reading, reduced ability to read for extended periods, slow readers, and double vision. These symptoms are typically seen in grades 1 through 3, as many children's binocular system at these ages have yet to fully mature.
When I talk about paddling upstream, this is what I was referring to. Kids with underlying issues like this have to work so hard to be able to see what they are trying to read, that it makes it extra hard for them to be able to learn. It’s kind of like patting your head with one hand and rubbing your belly with other, all while trying to read a paragraph in a book and being expected to remember what is in the paragraph. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and even pediatricians, can’t see that this irregular process is going on behind the scenes, and you may not hear the symptoms from the child.
So my recommendation is to get your children's eyes examined by a good eye doctor who will look at the eye health, basic prescription needs (nearsightedness and farsightedness), and also how the eyes work together. Reading an eye chart in the school nurses or pediatricians office checks how well the child can see, not how well the eyes work together while performing during school.
Best of luck to you and your children for this school year. If you need our help, click this link to schedule your child's eye exam.