Vision and School Performance

One of the most common questions I get as an optometrist is, “does my child really need an eye exam, if their school and pediatrician screenings have been fine?”  The fact is, subtle problems, not frequently detected by cursory screenings, can impact academic success in a big way. As a parent, it pays to understand the linkage between children’s vision and school performance.

Comprehensive Vision Screening for Children

This is a understandable and perfectly valid question.  Often, as parents, we are led to believe that as long as our child passes their vision screening at school or at the pediatrician’s office that all is well and no additional follow up is needed.  I can appreciate this sentiment, but I would say this is only a half-truth.  Pediatrician and school screenings are good for detecting glaring issues with a child’s vision.  If your child can’t see the leaves on the trees, or the baseball hurtling towards their face, or what their teacher is writing in the classroom, then one of these screenings will likely detect the issue and recommend a full eye exam to address it.  But, blurriness is only one potential problem that can arise with our vision, and there are many other abnormalities in how our two eyes work together that can have an even greater affect on school performance.

The unfortunate reality about these screenings is that the people running them simply do not have time, resources or training necessary to fully check every visual system to ensure appropriate function.  More than once I have had a child come to see me complaining of debilitating double vision while their parents state that the school screening came up ‘fine’. In these cases the child’s vision is clear, but a comprehensive exam reveals a profound ‘eye-teaming’ problem.  So long as the child is able to see well with each eye far away they will usually pass pediatrician and school screenings, while serious issues go undetected that could impact academic performance.

Performance Impacting Conditions Common

These sorts of issues come up frequently.  It is estimated that between 10-20% of children have some sort of eye teaming, tracking, or focusing disorder that has the potential to make school much more difficult than it already is.  So what other children’s vision symptoms might you look for that could indicate that your child has one of these more subtle eye tracking, teaming, or focusing disorders?  Some symptoms a parent might notice would include:

  • Below grade level for reading
  • Recurrent headaches, eye aches, or excessive rubbing of eyes while reading/ studying
  • Difficulty tracking words while reading ie: words jump around the page, child has to use their finger to keep their place, repeating of lines or skipping of lines while reading
  • Poor attention span
  • Difficulty with sports
  • Or simply their child simply doesn’t like to read

There are many other issues that might indicate a problem with visual efficiency, but these are some of the most common symptoms that get reported when coming in for an eye exam.

So school and pediatrician screenings give us a small glimpse of how a child’s vision is doing, but a comprehensive eye exam with a trained optometrist will give you a great deal more information.  During a full eye exam we have the time and equipment needed to ensure that all aspects of a child’s vision are tested, enabling us to detect any of these subtle eye teaming issues that might have otherwise been missed.  We perform a full health check on the eyes, including the option of taking a picture of your child’s retina, replacing the need to dilate your child’s eyes and making their eye exam a more pleasant process.  We take the time to listen to what you have been experiencing or potential problems your child might be having to make sure we address them immediately.

So while school and pediatrician screenings are valuable, a comprehensive eye exam, especially before they start school, can detect and treat more subtle problems that if unaddressed might negatively affect a child’s ability to read and learn. If it’s time for your child to get a comprehensive eye exam, contact Vision Care Specialists at 303-991-9600 or online to schedule an appointment.