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Kids' Vision and Learning

Girl Glasses

Do you have an eager Little League team player who just misses hitting the ball with the bat most of the time, or can't seem to quite get under those fly balls in the outfield? Maybe it's not her lack of athletic talent that's to blame. Maybe it's her vision.

The same could be true of trouble with learning. According to the American Optometric Association (AAO), 80 percent of the learning a child does is through the eyes, and nearsightedness (poor distance vision) is one common cause of learning difficulties. If they aren't seeing what's going on in front of the classroom—whether it's an Old School blackboard or Smart Board—kids may be in for a cascade of learning issues. They need to be able to focus, track smoothly along lines of a text, and coordinate eyes to work together to get through both school and play.

Rely on Primary Care Providers for Early Screening

As their visual systems mature, kids need equal input from both eyes in order for the visual centers in the brain to develop properly, and if a growing child's eye doesn't provide a clear, focused image to the developing brain, they may experience more than learning difficulties—they may experience irreversible loss of vision in one or both eyes, so early screening is key.

However, you do not have to start with a specialist.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and The American Academy of Ophthalmology all advocate early serial screening of children as the best approach for infants and children.* By "serial" screening, they mean by primary care providers who see children on a regular basis. School or community screenings are also reliable places to start.

Common eye conditions that can be detected in vision screening programs by primary care providers, community programs, and schools include reduced vision in one or both eyes from amblyopia (lazy eye), uncorrected refractive errors, or strabismus (misalignment of the eyes). "Children who don't pass these screenings may then be referred to an ophthalmologist with training and experience in treating children," says Moran Eye Center pediatric specialist and researcher Leah Owen, MD, PhD. "One of the goals of regular screening is to eliminate amblyopia through screening, because if it's detected before age eight, it's treatable. There are other, more serious conditions of course, but this is one where we are ahead of the game with early detection."

There are ways to determine if your child has a vision issue. After seeing a 3D movie if you child is dizzy, uncomfortable, or says they couldn't see the 3D content, you may want to take them to the optometrist. Similarly, if your child is squinting when watching TV, or claims reading gives them a headache a doctor's appointment is in order. Also watch them on the playground, sometimes clumsiness in sports isn't about coordination, but a lazy eye. Regardless of vision issues all school age children should have have their vision screened every two years.