Last year, only 28 per cent of Alberta children under the age of six received an eye exam before starting school, despite the fact that an estimated one in four school-aged children have a vision problem significant enough to impair their ability to learn.
“A child with an undiagnosed vision problem can easily fall behind,” says Dr. Ward ZoBell. “Poor vision can delay a child’s development, making learning and coordination for physical activities difficult. We find that children rarely complain of a vision problem, because they assume everyone sees the way they do.”
Most vision problems can be treated if caught early. However, many Alberta parents mistakenly believe they would know if their child was having problems with their vision.
“It’s difficult to determine if your child has a vision problem, especially if the issue is in one eye.” says Dr. Ward ZoBell. “Children are very good at compensating, and they learn ways to get around it.” This includes memorizing things they do often, holding things closer, or closing one eye to help focus.
Undiagnosed vision problems can elicit some of the signs and symptoms that are commonly attributed to other developmental issues, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and speech problems.
“August is a great time to book a comprehensive eye exam for your child to ensure they are set up to succeed before school starts. It also provides enough time for eyewear or contacts to arrive if needed,” says Dr. Ward ZoBell.
The Alberta Association of Optometrists recommends that children receive their first eye exam at six months of age; their second, by the age of three; their third before starting kindergarten and each year after starting school. These exams are covered by Alberta Health.
In Alberta, a program called Eye See…Eye Learn is offered through the Alberta Association of Optometrists, which gives children in kindergarten a comprehensive eye examination by a doctor of optometry, and if required, a free pair of glasses.
“This program is in place to ensure that eye health or vision problems do not prevent children from reaching their full learning potential,” says Dr. ZoBell.
Last year, more than 2000 kindergarten students in Alberta received free eye glasses through the Eye See…Eye Learn® program, and for 65 percent of these children it was their first pair of glasses.
To learn more about the Eye See … Eye Learn ® program and to find an optometrist in your community visit, www.optometrists.ab.ca/esel