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Kids' Eye and Vision Problems: What School Screenings Might Miss

Back to School Eye Exams

As kids head back to school or jump in for the first time, it's essential to ensure their vision is functioning correctly. And if they have issues, now is the time to do something about it.

"Vision issues, whether myopia or amblyopia (lazy eye), can affect almost every aspect of a child's development, from academics and athletics to social interactions and self-esteem," says Shandi M. Beckwith, OD, an optometrist at the John A. Moran Eye Center. "School screenings don't always catch the more subtle issues, so parents and educators may incorrectly assume there's no problem if a child passes."

According to the American Optometric Association, one in four school-age children has a vision disorder, yet school vision screenings miss up to 75 percent of children with vision problems. A vision screening provides less than four percent of the information generated during a comprehensive eye exam.

"Without a comprehensive eye exam from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, children's vision disorders may go undetected or misdiagnosed," says Beckwith. "If misdiagnosed as ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, or behavioral problems, those labels may affect a child for life without addressing an underlying visual issue that could be corrected."

Any of the following symptoms could signal a vision issue. If you notice your child experiencing one or more, be sure to tell your eye doctor:

  • Frequent blinking or eye rubbing
  • Short attention span
  • Complaint of feeling tired or uncomfortable
  • Avoiding reading or other activities that require close-up vision
  • Frequent headaches
  • Covering one eye
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Holding reading materials too close to the face
  • An eye turning in or out
  • Seeing double
  • Losing place when reading
  • Difficulty remembering what they read

Not-So-Obvious Red Flags

These signs may seem more like behavioral problems or disabilities than vision issues, but they could also result from poor vision:

  • Difficulty organizing and prioritizing work and time
  • Relying heavily on pictures to "read" or auditory memorization
  • Not performing up to potential
  • Difficulty working alone and following directions
  • Inattentive or disruptive in class
  • Lack of interest in reading
  • Excuses and refusal to do homework
  • Difficulty completing tasks quietly and getting easily frustrated

August is Kids' Eye Health and Safety Month. The National Eye Institute offers a variety of fun information about the science of vision, eye safety, optical illusions, and more—created just for kids.