With about one-in-four school-aged children suffering from an undetected or untreated vision problem, the AOA, with support from HOYA Vision Care, gathered together doctors, nurses, educators and other children's health advocates for the first-ever School Readiness Summit: Focus on Vision.
The two-day session examined alarmingly high-rates of learning-related vision issues now plaguing America's children. And in the end, the group issued a bold healthy vision and learning blueprint to replace a broken system that is leaving millions of children to endure the effects of diseases that are treatable and vision loss that is preventable.
During an AOA-led press conference at the National Press Club, AOA President-Elect Dori Carlson, O.D. flanked by key School Readiness Summit participants, including Dr. Alexa Posny (pink) of the U.S. Department of Education.
Responding to President Obama's call to ensure that no child is left behind in the classroom due to an undetected or untreated eye or vision disorder, the summit's interdisciplinary workgroup - comprising nearly 50 leaders in their respective fields - documented and recognized the established link between healthy vision and classroom learning.
The workgroup then produced an historic joint statement backing "comprehensive eye exams for school-aged children as a foundation for a coordinated and improved approach to addressing children's vision and eye health issues and as a key element of ensuring school readiness in American children."
The School Readiness Summit joint statement can be found at: http://www.aoa.org/documents/Joint_Statement.pdf. The joint statement was signed by nearly 20 leading health care and education groups and signifies a major policy shift in addressing children's vision issues.
For the first time ever, health and education leaders agree that in order to address persistent high-rates of learning-related vision problems in school-aged kids, comprehensive eye exams must serve as the foundation for a coordinated and improved approach.
"Thanks to the School Readiness Summit, we're an important step closer to eliminating undiagnosed and untreated vision problems from America's schools, said AOA president-elect Dori Carlson, O.D.
"As a mom, family eye doctor and the incoming president of AOA, I'm proud of this gathering and its determination to lead the way toward doing more to ensure that our children reach their full potential, including recognizing the urgent need for regular comprehensive eye exams," Dr. Carlson added.
Readiness Summit attendees hard at work. The summit was a two-day intensive session to develop strategies to better address high-rates of learning-related vision problems now plaguing America’s children.
Studies show that much of what children learn comes through vision, and undetected and untreated eye and vision disorders in children, such as amblyopia and strabismus, can result in vision loss, additional costly treatments, delayed reading and poorer outcomes in school.
In fact, a number of studies even indicate that visual factors are better predictors of academic success than race or socio-economic status.
Traditionally, parents, the U.S. educational system and some health care providers have heavily relied on vision screenings to help identify those kids in need of a comprehensive exam. While most vision screenings can and do catch some types of vision problems, they tend to miss upwards of 75 percent of children with a learning-related vision problem.
Additionally, vision screenings do not diagnose or treat any potential vision problems and do not ensure that kids will actually receive needed care.
Studies have also shown that upwards of 40 percent of kids who are told that they have failed a vision screening do not receive the appropriate follow-up care that they need.
This groundbreaking statement essentially acknowledges that the current system of utilizing vision screenings as the primary method of identifying learning-related vision problems is flawed and broken and that comprehensive eye exams should be used as the foundation for identifying and ensuring treatment for learning-related vision problems in school-aged children.
Ultimately, such a large policy shift may encourage lawmakers and the appropriate government agencies to consider recommending or even requiring that, at the very least, children receive a comprehensive eye exam before entering school.
In fact, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois already mandate that children receive a comprehensive eye exam before school entry.
"Too many American children still go through years of school before a learning-related vision problem is ultimately detected; typically after many other more costly interventions," said Dr. Carlson.
"Knowing what is at stake for our kids, I am grateful to HOYA and all of the participating organizations as well as the nearly 50 doctors, nurses, public officials and children's health advocates who joined with AOA to make our School Readiness Summit the success that it needed to be," Dr. Carlson added.
Summit organizers welcomed participation by the U.S. Department of Education, knowing that educators are also on the frontlines of child wellness and development.
A 2010 survey of teachers by the AOA found that 81 percent believe vision and learning are interdependent. The survey also found 64 percent of teachers witnessed a direct improvement in a child's academic performance and/or classroom behavior after an eye or vision problem was diagnosed and treated.
"We know if we are to improve school success, we must make sure children can see," said Dr. Alexa Posny, assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education and keynote speaker at the summit.
"If America is to produce world class students, we must make sure they have all the tools they need for success. Eye exams should be a part of efforts to improve America's educational outcomes," Dr. Posny added.
"The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is proud to join with the American Optometric Association and other groups in a commitment to ensure that America's schoolchildren have access to diagnosis and treatment for vision problems," said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. "A tremendous amount of learning happens visually, so proper vision care is crucial to helping students reach their full potential."
The statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten can be found at: http://www.aoa.org/documents/AFT_Statement_AOA_SRS.pdf
The School Readiness Summit joint principles statement was signed by:
- American Academy of Optometry
- American Academy of Physicians Assistants
- American Association of Diabetes Educators
- American Federation of Teachers
- American Optometric Association
- American Public Health Association
- Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry
- Bausch + Lomb
- College of Optometrists in Vision Development
- Council for Exceptional Children
- Essilor of America, Inc.
- Foundation for Eye Health Awareness
- National Assembly on School-Based Health Care
- National Association of Community Health Centers
- National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
- National Association of School Nurses
- National Commission on Vision and Health
- National Education Association's Health Information Network
- National Head Start Association
- National Optometric Association
- National Rural Health Association
- Prevent Blindness America
- Transitions Optical, Inc
- The Vision Council
- Vistakon®, a Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc.
- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
"This is the first time we've seen such a broad and comprehensive group of educators and health care providers agree that the lack of eye exams for children is a problem and that we need to finally move toward fixing it," said Barry Barresi, O.D., Ph.D., executive director of the AOA.
"I'm hopeful that we are finally moving away from a failed and broken system and toward an era where every child begins school with all of the tools - including healthy eyes and vision - needed to succeed in school and later in life," added Dr. Barresi.