Wed09172014

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Evaluating your child’s vision as a conduit for learning

By Susan C. Lodenquai, O.D.

We love our children and want to provide the best learning environment for them we can. Whether said or unsaid, this is what I assume most parents in the world wish for their children.

In Silicon Valley, we have some pretty advanced teaching tools at schools and homes for the purpose of education. Yet despite the fancy technologies available to help children learn, there is a very basic, often overlooked aspect that directly impacts their ability to learn: their vision.

Vision is the primary way in which we learn. For example, babies need to see to find food, crawl and grasp their toys. School-age children need to see to read and learn their alphabets and numbers on the board. In sports, they need to see to throw, kick or dodge that ball coming their way.

Diagnosing vision problems

According to the American Public Health Association, 25 percent of students in grades K-6 have visual problems that are serious enough to impede learning. That’s one in every four children – which is a lot.

I see this vision issue in my office all the time. Parents often bring in children who show signs of falling behind in class or struggling with reading comprehension. These students tire quickly when reading or attempting math problems and cannot focus in class. They are bright students, but something is standing in their way when it comes to learning.

The Vision Council of America estimates that 80 percent of children with a learning disability have an undiagnosed vision problem.

Proper vision is closely tied to learning, but as an optometrist, often the primary problem is that parents are not aware of this, usually because children do not complain about their vision – they instead gripe about how much homework they have or say they are too tired to read. These problems do not sound like visually related issues, but they certainly could be related to poor vision.

Often the children and/or adults do not perceive the connection between vision-related problems and poor school performance. Even if the parents considered vision the problem, they assume that because the child passed a vision screening at school or in the pediatrician’s office, then he or she must have good eyesight.

That’s why I highly recommend that school officials consider having optometrists administer the vision screenings.

The National PTA developed a policy statement on the subject: “Early diagnosis and treatment of children’s vision problems is a necessary component to school readiness and academic learning. Vision screening is not a substitute for a complete eye and vision evaluation by an eye doctor. Comprehensive eye and vision examinations ... are important for all children first entering school and regularly throughout their school years to ensure healthy eyes and adequate visual skills essential for successful academic achievement.”

Technology and nearsightedness

It is undeniable that our local schools are academically competitive. Coupled with the fact that many of us are technologically savvy, we provide a host of gadgets to our children to aid them in the learning process. Along with that comes the age of iPods, iPads and iPhones. The entire world of learning has shifted from balanced outdoor-indoor learning to almost wholly learning about the world through a small video screen.

With that environment, we see a marked rise in children entering the myopia world. They are developing nearsightedness earlier, and their prescriptions increase at a very rapid rate every year. Many doctors consider this to be epidemic.

There are myriad retinal issues that can result from a high-myopia eyeball, including retinal detachment, which is potentially threatening to vision.

I bring this issue up not only as an optometrist, but also as a parent. The world is at your child’s fingertips at the touch of a screen. But comprehensive learning about the world comes from actual experience – through seeing, touching, smelling, hearing and speaking.

As much as vision is the primary way to learn, wholesome learning comes from experiencing the world around us. In my view, there’s nothing more important.

Susan C. Lodenquai, O.D., runs Altos Family Optometry, 668-B Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, call 948-5061. n

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