Most of us are not trained to spot the potential signs of a visual impairment. Only a doctor diagnoses a medical condition, but parents, family members, teachers and other adults of authority spending quality time with a child may be the first responders, the good samaritans on the road to vision care. They notice a behavior and may refer a child to a vision screening or a more involved eye examination which ultimately produces an official determination. See something, screen something.
But what if you don’t know what to look for? All of the people I interviewed reported a similar experience: they didn’t exactly know the signs of impaired vision. My friend who teaches math told me, “I never received any training that I recall about identifying visual impairment.” Likewise, one pre-K instructor told me, “In my training to be a preschool teacher I do not remember being taught specifically how to identify a visual impairment. ” And yet, by observing children in routine activities, teachers, “take note when we see something that is not typical.” It’s part of the job.
If you can’t name the cause of a behavior, you can still catch it happening. A grandma said her grandson, “wasn’t moving toward toys as much as some kids.” One mom said she, “noticed [her daughter] was getting headaches while reading.” Finally, another parent remembers watching her daughter doing a focused task and, “after we noticed her eye crossing we scheduled her exam.”
Are these the kind of behaviors to follow-up on? Absolutely. There are many more, too. Vision First Foundation is a non-profit organization raising awareness about the importance of vision screenings, eye exams and eye health in children. They provide information for all parties involved. On its website, the foundation highlights the following behaviors to watch for in children:
- Trouble completing schoolwork?
- Delayed progress or difficulties in school?
- Eye strain?
- Short attention span?
- Avoidance of reading or close work?
- Frequent loss of place when reading?
- Poor handwriting?
- A child may or may not display symptoms of impaired vision.
Earlier posts in this series pointed out American kids may be receiving free screenings through school programs or at the doctor’s office under mandates from the Affordable Care Act. In addition, some community service organizations provide them. One mom told me this about her son’s vision screenings, “The Lions Club did them at his pre-k in PA when he was 4. ” Early and effective intervention. In order to find a Lions Club near you, check their resource page here.
Another possible option is a national organization which provides vision examinations: Sight for Students. You can find more about Sight for Students here.
It’s important to check those eyes. Future learning and quality of life depends on it. As one of my friends said:
“As a former employee of an optometrist, I can tell you that most people, especially children, do not visit the optometrist until there is a problem. Preventative eye care is less common than other preventative healthcare. What if we didn’t go to the dentist until something hurt, or we didn’t get vaccines because we weren’t sick yet? Once a person has gone to see an optometrist, it is more likely that they will go back in the future for preventative care or continuing care–I don’t know statistics on this; I just say this based on my recollection. But most people won’t go in the first place unless they have to.”
Make vision screenings a priority for the kids in your life.
Can you identify the signs of a possible vision impairment? Have you experienced any symptoms yourself? Where are some other places which offer low-cost or free eye exams? If you live outside of America, what options do you have in your country? Tell me about it.
Come back later this week for the conclusion of the kids and vision screening series. I’ll share how to obtain FREE eye glasses for children.