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Why Millions of Children Aren’t Receiving Proper Eye Care - And the Solution

Why Millions of Children Aren’t Receiving Proper Eye Care - And the Solution

Kids See: Success

Maureen CavanaghOptometry Giving Sight is pleased to be a partner in the Kids See: Success program being initiated in collaboration with Vision Impact Institute and VSP Global. This article, authored by Maureen Cavanagh (pictured left), President of the Vision Impact Institute, was published in the Huffington Post in October 2016.

Among the many important issues to talk about surrounding good eye health, children’s vision is a very, very big one.

Kids See SuccessThe issue is so prevalent, in fact, that the Vision Impact Institute (VII) recently launched a new U.S. initiative, Kids See: Success, focused on educating parents, legislators, child advocacy groups, school nurses, teachers and administrators about the social, educational and future economic benefits of comprehensive eye exams for children prior to entering kindergarten.

Why this focus on children’s vision? Consider the numbers: According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 12.1 million school-age children suffer from vision problems, and only one in three children in the United States has received eye care services before age six. Since 80 percent of what a child learns before age 12 is through eyesight, the one in four American school-age children who have vision problems – if left untreated – could experience learning difficulties, personality and behavioral developmental issues, adjustment problems in school and, in some cases, become blind.

Children who need vision correction have been misdiagnosed with learning disabilities, when all they needed was a simple pair of glasses. Today in the United States, 40 percent of kids with diagnosed learning disabilities have vision issues.

Children’s vision disorders are costly, too, racking up an estimated $10 billion annually in the United States alone with the costs of medical care, vision aids and devices, caregivers, special education, vision screening programs, federal assistance programs and quality of life losses.

Little girl with glassesBut the solution is surprisingly simple: comprehensive eye exams. Early and regularly.

While many schools provide vision screenings for younger children, these tests often fail to result in any real action or treatment. For example, two studies published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that up to 67 percent of children who fail a vision screening do not receive the recommended follow-up care by an eye doctor.

Often, a lack of communication with parents, who may or may not have been present at the screening, is to blame. One study found that 50 percent of parents were unaware their child had even failed a vision screening two months after the fact.

And although these screenings can diagnose some problems, more serious vision issues may go undetected, including those that are most prevalent among preschool children: amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (crossed eyes) and significant refractive error.

These disorders can significantly limit kids’ academic and social success and their quality of life overall. For instance, a child with untreated lazy eye will earn 12 percent less over his or her working lifetime than a treated child, according to the Children’s Eye Foundation. And this condition, which can be easily corrected if detected early on (more than 125,000 school-aged children in the U.S. are diagnosed with lazy eye every year), can lead to permanent blindness if not identified and treated by the age of seven.

In the United States, millions of children with uncorrected or undiagnosed refractive errors are also at risk for long-term academic, social and physical problems without the appropriate treatment.

The good news? Many of the negative effects of uncorrected vision can be avoided when diagnosed early. If children undergo comprehensive eye exams by eye care professionals prior to entering kindergarten – and then as recommended by their doctors after that – these issues could be identified and addressed before it’s too late.

In a recent report, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine evaluated the status of vision in the U.S. healthcare system and recommended comprehensive eye exams as the “gold standard” in identifying potential vision disorders for children before they enter school.

Despite this, only three states currently require their school systems to follow the practice. That’s why the VII partnered with Optometry Giving Sight and VSP Global to form Kids See: Success. The group’s goal is to encourage cities and states across the U.S. to require these early exams. By doing so, children will be provided with the best possible chance to succeed academically and beyond.

How can you help? Spread the word to school administrators, nurses, teachers and parents about the benefits of a comprehensive eye exam and early intervention for young children. If your local schools don’t require eye exams for kindergartners, educate them about why they should. Only through comprehensive eye exams can we ensure that children can see clearly and are provided with a level playing field from the start.

Photo courtesy Brien Holden Vision Institute