By Denis Langlois
In most instances, children learn by seeing.
Vision experts say as much as 80 per cent of what a person learns in the first 12 years of life comes through visual information, such as words on a blackboard, cues from adults and images on computer screens.
Yet one in four school-aged children has an undetected vision issue, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, which can make visual learning much more difficult.
The CAO says about 88 per cent of Canadian adults who have a visual impairment report that their educational experiences were directly impacted by their sight, which has in turn impacted educational attainment, career choices and employment.
But how can ECPs entice more children to come into their offices for a vision test? And why are these types of screenings so important for kids?
These are some of the questions we have put to Dr. Kirsten North, the association’s policy consultant.
Q: First off, how often should children see an ECP and how were these guidelines developed?
A: In 2011, the Canadian Association of Optometrists published evidence-based guidelines on the frequency of eye examinations for Canadians. These guidelines recommend that a child has their first eye examination between the ages of six to nine months, at least one more examination between the ages of two to five years and an annual exam through the school years (six to 19 years).
Q: Recent studies indicate that 61 per cent of parents mistakenly believe they’d know if their child had a vision issue. Why is this a concern?
A: Children experience much of the world visually and that is especially true at school. Poor vision can delay a child’s development and make learning and co-ordination for physical activities difficult.
Children rarely complain of a vision problem because they assume everyone sees the way they do. Without any obvious signs or symptoms, especially if the problem is only in one eye, parents often assume a child’s vision is fine.
A comprehensive eye and vision examination with an optometrist is the best way to determine whether a child has a vision issue.
Q: What are some strategies that ECPs can use to get more children in their offices?
A: Participation in back-to-school or children’s vision month promotions as well as participation in the Eye See Eye Learn program run by most provincial optometric associations provide valuable opportunities to encourage parents to bring children in for a checkup.
Speaking with parents about the importance of children’s eye exams while they are having their eyes examined is another opportunity to share the importance of ensuring children’s eye health. Making the waiting room more child-friendly by offering quiet toys (that can be disinfected), books and/or colouring is a positive step to make children feel welcome too.
Q: Are ECPs seeing an increase in the number of children with symptoms of digital eye strain/computer vision syndrome? How can ECPs address this issue?
A: Whether it be for education or entertainment, kids spend a large portion of their day looking at some type of screen or device, so it makes sense that ECPs are seeing more children with symptoms of digital eye strain/computer vision syndrome.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society developed screen time guidelines that provide wonderful guidance on how much is too much that could be shared with parents. Parents may also benefit from information on the potential impacts of blue light from screens and ways to avoid over-exposure.