Regular eye checkups are crucial for youngsters.
By SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 20, 2002
As children head back to the classroom this month, "they should start the school year with every advantage, including good vision," says Dr. Linda Nakanishi, pediatric ophthalmologist at the University of South Florida School of Medicine.
Because vision problems are often difficult to detect, every child should receive a complete visual examination at a physician's office, she says.
Here are some facts and tips on seeing clearly.
-- SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times staff writer
The eyes have it
- Children rarely report vision problems; they think everyone sees the way they do.
- More than 80 percent of what children learn is processed through their eyes.
- As many as 1 in 4 school-age children have a vision-based learning problem. A child suspected of having a learning disability may only need glasses, contacts or other vision correction.
- If a child (or adult) has 20/20 vision, it means he can see what an average person sees at a distance of 20 feet.
- The most common vision problem in children is farsightedness.
I can see clearly now
- Fourteen percent of children have had a comprehensive vision exam by first grade. Doctors recommend one by age 3 and another when beginning school. If a child wears glasses, he should be checked every one to two years.
- An eye chart checks only a child's distance vision. It cannot determine if he is having trouble coordinating eye movement, tracking a line of print or changing focus from near to far.
- School vision screenings, which typically use an eye chart, are not a complete assessment. "Children have a greater ability to focus than adults do," Nakanishi says. "To accurately check for glasses, a child needs to have his eyes dilated."
- Though eyeglasses are more a fashion plus than a social faux pas these days, children can wear contact lenses. Depending on maturity, Nakanishi says, girls are usually able to responsibly wear contacts at 9 or 10, boys when they're slightly older.
- Protective eyewear should be worn for sports.
I spy trouble
- A child with vision problems may:
- Avoid reading or other close-up tasks.
- Lose his place on a page.
- Tire quickly when reading.
- Have red or watery eyes.
- Squint, frown or rub his eyes.
- Tilt his head at an angle or hold books too close to his face.
- Have difficulty copying from a blackboard.
- Reverse letters or numbers beyond the first grade.
- Complain of headaches.
- Be awkward or clumsy.
- Have difficulty catching or hitting a ball.
Keeping an eye on preschoolers
- Newborns see only patterns of light and dark and shades of gray, and they focus only 8 to 12 inches. So much of their world is blurred.
- By 4 months, babies can see in full color.
- As babies learn to sit and crawl, they improve their spatial and dimensional awareness, hand-eye coordination and ability to switch focus from close to distant.
- Some researchers believe early walkers may not learn to use their eyes together as well as crawlers, who must "team" their eyes more often to look at objects close up.
-- SOURCES: Dr. Linda Nakanishi; National PTA; Kansas Vision Development Center; Better Vision Institute.
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