Michael Cole, OD, Child and Family EyeCare Center

It’s hard to believe, but another school year is here. While children focus on clothes and supplies like iPads and laptops, it’s the parents’ job to ensure their child begins the school year with all their supplies. Unfortunately, there is one key preparation most parents miss. How well your child sees throughout the school day can have a huge impact on academic performance and behavior in the classroom, and an eye exam is often not on the back-to-school checklist.

Why an eye exam and not a vision screening? There is a great article on WebMD that explains this. According to the article, Common Vision Disorders Could Be Holding Your Child Back in School, “If your child aces the eye chart at the pediatrician’s office, you might assume her vision is just fine. But some common vision disorders can’t be detected by a standard eye exam — and could be holding your child back in school.”

Vision screenings typically test to see how well your child can see the letters on the eye chart, and if the child passes this test, vision is incorrectly determined to be fine. Most people don’t realize that all 20/20 means is that you are looking at the eye chart from a distance of 20 feet and you are able to see the size of letter you are supposed to see from 20 feet.

Think about it for a minute: Where does a child do most of his or her learning? Most reading, writing, homework and test taking is done up close (one may see well at distance, but not see properly at 16 inches in front of them, which is the recommended reading distance).
What are some of the skills that are missed if we only look at distance vision, and only check if someone has 20/20?

  • Following a line of print from left to right.
  • Seeing the letters clearly as our eyes are moving.
  • Moving from line to line effortlessly and accurately.

In the classroom, students need to be able to look at their materials on their desks and quickly focus on the teacher’s writing on the board so they can copy it back to notes. If any of the above visual skills are missing or deficient, reading and learning will be difficult.

If your child is performing well in school, then you need to schedule a yearly eye exam with any eye care professional you trust. However, if your child struggles with reading, is smart in everything but school or is a bright underachiever, you need to make sure your child has all the visual skills required for academic success. To do this, you need to see a developmental optometrist who provides an in-depth binocular vision evaluation.

To find a developmental optometrist near you visit the College of Optometrists in Vision Development at covd.org.