For children who’ve never known differently, detecting eye problems in their early childhood years can be difficult because they won’t understand their vision is being impaired or show regular symptoms; they assume everyone sees the way they do.
October is Children’s Vision Month, and optometrists Dr. Marc Kallal from Ponoka Eyecare and Dr. Mark ZoBell from Drs. Heimdahl & ZoBell want to remind Ponoka residents that Alberta Health covers annual eye exams from an optometrist for youths up to 19 years old.
A new survey reports that 61 per cent of Canadian parents mistakenly believe they would know if their child was having difficulty with their eyesight.
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 complimentary pair of glasses.
In 2003, the program was launched as a pilot project. “It worked out so well we extended it across the province,” said ZoBell.
Now the program is endorsed by all public and separate schools across the province.
“This program is in place to increase each child’s access to vision care and to raise awareness of common eye conditions,” said Kallal.
“It’s important for children to have regular eye exams, so serious eye conditions can be identified and properly managed,” said Kallal.
It’s recommended 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.
Each fall kindergarten teachers send information packages home, encouraging parents to have their children’s eyes tested.
“A child with an undetected vision problem can easily fall behind in school,” said ZoBell. “Poor vision can delay a child’s development, making learning and coordination for physical activities difficult.”
Each year, fewer than 14 per cent of Canadian 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.
Last year, 19,888 five-year-olds in Alberta had eye exams and of those tested, 1,783 needed glasses and received a complimentary pair through the program.
“I know one of the big reasons we started the program is to catch lazy eye (amblyopia),” said ZoBell. Amblyopia has two causes, when one eye looks straight and the other is turned or one that doesn’t’ focus with the good eye.
In both situations, the weaker eye gets turned off by the brain and the vision development is delayed. The affliction is best treated with glasses and patching that will help the weaker eye to work on its own, hopefully building strength.
ZoBells says other common problems the program catches are stigmas, near sightedness and binocular vision.
Children who are tested through the program have a special report given to both their parents and teacher to increase communication for the child’s needs.
“One thing about this program is that it’s very successful and doesn’t cost the Alberta Government very much,” said ZoBell. Alberta Health funds the special reports while the complimentary glasses, lenses and time is donated from the respected fields.