I have worn glasses/contacts for the last 35 years. I must admit...I'm sort of jealous of my husband's perfect vision. Because I've had bad vision, I've hoped that my little guy wouldn't, and when he was a-year-old, I took him to an ophthalmologist because he kept doing weird, squinty things with his eyes.
It turns out his weird, squinty things were normal, but he actually was a candidate for juvenile congenital glaucoma. His grandfather had glaucoma early in life, so we watch my son, and keep tabs on his pressures. If not for the weird and squinty eyes, I probably wouldn't have taken him to the specialist unless I saw some other weird signs, and often those signs don't come until they are older and it is noticeable in school.
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According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), one in five children has a vision-related condition. It's important to find and treat (if possible) as early as possible as poor vision and issues can affect so many areas in a child's life. Poor vision directly impacts a child's learning, as when you can't see, you can't learn as well.
Some estimate that many suspected learning disabilities are in fact vision issues, and that's why ANY time a child is suspected of having a learning disability, an eye exam is necessary to rule out eye issues first.
Some eye issues can also impact the development of children, physically and neurologically. Some muscle imbalances can also lead to amblyopia ('lazy' eye) and that can suppress the brain's ability to not see double. It can even lead to permanent loss of vision. Additionally, vision issues can affect motor coordination, depth perception and muscle development.
And while rare, children can also have cancerous tumors, retinal disease or congenital glaucoma. These diseases can be not just vision-impairing, but life-threatening.
Experts recommend comprehensive eye exams as part of well-care, not just as the specialist care you attempt to get after symptoms present. The school 'vision screening' can often lead parents to feel like vision is not a problem, but screenings can fail to identify one in three issues, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Screenings at school or the pediatrician are not comprehensive exams, nor are they meant to be. Diagnostic exams can find problems and identify courses of action. Most screenings are simply looking to see if your child is nearsighted (myopic) anyway.
Presbyopia (farsightedness) is what makes a bigger difference in a child when learning to read and is often overlooked in 'screenings.'
Most importantly, for kiddos and mamas alike, a regular eye exam will include a medical assessment of the eye. The dilation of eyes is what enables a doctor to detect the serious conditions like macular degeneration, cancers and even arthritis, as juvenile arthritis can involve eye complications. Just as you take your child (and yourself, we hope) for regular exams, eye care should be part of the well-care routine.
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According to the AOA, children should have comprehensive eye exams every two years, with one being in the first 12 months. Preschoolers should have an exam when they are able to understand and respond to the exam questions accurately. Kindergarteners should have an exam to ensure that there are vision issues that would hinder learning to read. After that, unless there is a specific eye issue, it's recommended your child has an eye exam every two years, as it is for adults as well.