As parents flock to back-to-school sales in coming weeks, you may need to add eyeglasses to the pens, school uniforms, laptops and backpacks on your child’s back-to-school supplies list. Why? Your son or daughter may be among the one in four children in the U.S. with a vision impairment significant enough to affect their ability to learn.
Why is seeing clearly in the classroom so important? It’s said that 80 percent of what a child learns through age 12 is through their eyes. The best way to know if your child needs glasses is to put a comprehensive eye exam for him or her on your back-to-school to-do list.
When to get an eye exam for your child
Children should have their first eye exam when they are 6 months old. This might seem too young, but because clear sight is so important, any vision issues your child might have need to be caught as early as possible. If your child has no vision impairment, then they should get their eyes examined at age 3 and then again at about the age of 5 or 6, before starting first grade. After that, it is recommended that children get an eye exam annually until age 18. Since back-to-school comes around once a year for most children, it’s an easy way to remember to schedule your child’s eye exam.
Kid’s vision issues impact every aspect of life
Kids vision issues impact every aspect of their life, from learning, confidence and social interaction to participation in activities such as sports, art and music. Khloe, an outgoing first-grader, is a perfect example. Khloe, the 1 millionth recipient of free glasses from Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF), represents the estimated 10 million children in the U.S. who can’t see clearly and need vision care.
Khloe and her mother, Santana.
Khloe loves unicorns, dancing, reading and using her tablet. But Khloe’s mother, Santana, began noticing some changes.“Khloe would come home from school complaining of headaches,” Santana says. “She didn’t want to read and wouldn’t do her homework. She was always using the tablet and she even started putting that away.”Like millions of parents, Santana didn’t realize that Khloe was having vision problems.In fact, 44 percent of parents are not aware that behavioral problems can be an indication that their kid’s vision is impaired.
How to tell if your child may be having trouble seeing
Khloe was exhibiting some of the most common symptoms of children’s vision problems:
- Frequent headaches
- Short attention span
- Avoiding reading and other close activities
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Tilting the head to one side
Khloe’s poor vision was causing her to struggle at school. “Before I got glasses it was hard to see the board,” Khloe says. Khloe’s school nurse, Lauren, noticed that the first-grader needed glasses during a routine vision screening. “I think her teachers thought it was a behavioral issue, but Khloe could not see at all,” Lauren says.
Thankfully, for Khloe, her school nurse performs annual vision screenings. Many states, but not all, require vision screenings for school-aged children. If you are unsure whether your child’s school offers vision screenings each year, ask. Note, though, that a school vision screening is not the same as a comprehensive eye exam.
An eye doctor (optometrist or pediatric vision specialist) checks more than your child’s vision. A comprehensive eye exam – and eye exams for children in particular – includes more than a check of your child’s vision. So, don’t rely on your school’s vision screenings. Book an eye exam every year for your child.
Kids vision: The invisible problem
Vision impairment is frequently called the invisible problem because unlike hunger or tooth decay, kids often do not even know they cannot see clearly. To them, blurry eyesight is normal. Children rely on parents, teachers and their communities to be advocates for their vision care and to help ensure they receive eye exams regularly and eyeglasses when needed.
The good news is 80 percent of all vision impairment can be prevented or cured, often with a pair of eyeglasses. That is what happened with Khloe. EVF’s Kids Vision for Life mobile clinic visited Khloe’s school, and she received a vision exam and eyeglasses at no cost to her family. When Khloe put on her glasses, “her face lit up,” her school nurse, Lauren, says. “It was like she had never seen the world the way she sees it after putting on glasses.”
How to save on kids glasses
If you child needs – or your children need – glasses, back-to-school sales at an optical shop near you or an online retailer will save you money. Often, brick-and-mortar and online glasses shops offer buy one/get one specials on eyeglasses. Some online retailers offer student discounts on eyewear throughout the year.
If you have vision insurance for your family through work, that will take a bite out of the cost of your child’s eye exam and eyeglasses. If you have a flexible spending account or health savings account you can tap those funds to cut your family’s eyewear costs further. And don’t forget to check with your eye doctor for any promotions. Some eye doctors offer children’s eye exams at a discount this time of year, much like your family doctor often lowers the price on sports physicals in late summer and fall.
Backpacks, pens and eyeglasses
Putting your child’s eye exam on your back-to-school checklist ensures that your son or daughter will be able to see clearly in the classroom and on the soccer field. If your child needs glasses, add them to your back-to-school checklist of backpacks, pens and new school clothes and look in stores and online for savings. Glasses can open up a whole new world for your child.
Khloe is thrilled with her new pink-and-black eyeglasses, which will help ensure she will see better when she goes back to school in the fall. “When I got glasses it was easy to see,” Khloe says.
By Meredith Marmurek, Essilor Vision Foundation