Children’s vision…..Their future…..Our future

We often hear the statement that today’s children are our future leaders. It is in their (and our) best interest that children get the best start in life. Parents agree that there is nothing more important than the health and well being of their children. We can also agree that we want our children to do well and enjoy their time at school, given that they spend the major portion of their “growing up” years in school.

But what if a child is sent to school with a visual problem…..a problem that is unknown to the child, unknown to the parents, unknown to the teachers? Research has shown that 80% of a child’s learning is visual. Imagine the impact that an undetected visual problem will have on a child’s ability to learn! As parents and educators we want our children to learn how to read in those early elementary school years. We also hope that they will learn to enjoy reading.

But what if our child struggles with reading? Studies have shown that an estimated six out of ten children experiencing reading difficulties have an uncorrected or undetected vision problem; and that nearly 25% of school-age children have vision problems. Undetected and untreated vision problems can interfere with a child’s ability to learn and participate in sports and other childhood activities. The earlier the problem is diagnosed and treated, the less negative the impact it will have on the child’s development.

Studies have shown that only 14% of Canadian children under the age of six receive professional eye care and only half of all children will have a comprehensive eye exam before completing high school.

Alberta has become Canada’s pioneer in addressing this problem. The Eye See…Eye Learn Working Group was formed to represent community partnership between government, schools, health providers, and parents. During the 2003/2004 school year, a pilot project was undertaken in one school district to raise the awareness of the importance of a comprehensive eye examination for all children prior to entering the school system. As a result of this program, 45% of the total possible population entering kindergarten had eye examinations. Prior to his project and estimated 14-16% of this same age group of children were accessing eye examinations. Over twelve per cent of the total number of children examined required optometric intervention (6% requiring glasses, 2.5% with amblyopia, 5% with accommodative or binocular vision problems).

Alberta Health and Wellness fully insures eye examinations for children between the ages of 0 and 18. Therefore the barrier is not financial. Optometrists and ophthalmologists provide services in over 80 communities throughout Alberta, and the average waiting time for an appointment is 3-5 days. Therefore the barrier is not access. It was the conclusion of the Working Group in Alberta that the barrier was lack of awareness and the need was to educate parents, guardians and teachers about the importance of eye health examinations for children and the correlation between vision and learning.

The members of the New Brunswick Association of Optometrists believe that if our leaders are truly concerned about the education that our children receive….if our leaders are truly concerned about literacy…. if our leaders are truly concerned about our children’s future, these leaders will agree that all children should receive a comprehensive eye and vision examination prior to entering school.

Parents and teachers can find more information about children’s vision at the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

This post is also available in: Français (French)