Study: Early intervention can pay dividends in the classroom

October 2, 2017
An estimated 1 in 5 U.S. preschool children have vision problems and 1 in 4 school-age children wear corrective eyewear.

Today is National Child Health Day, and a recent study underscores how vision can contribute to children's academic success and the role of doctors of optometry.

Published in the International Journal of Educational Research, the study looked at the impact of impaired vision on the academic success of 109 schoolchildren, specifically 8- and 9-year-olds in the third grade. "Multi-sensory stimulation is essential in early development, as it encourages learning and brain plasticity," researchers at Queensland University of Technology wrote.

Up to 70% of daily classroom learning demands visual input-distance and near-vision acuity, contrast and sustained use of accommodative convergence, according to an earlier Australian study of fifth and sixth graders published in Clinical and Experimental Optometry.

In the April study, researchers found that 30% of the third graders, who were identified as having "borderline" or "unsatisfactory" vision, had "significantly lower" scores on national standardized tests for reading, grammar, punctuation, spelling and numeracy compared to their peers. The students were initially screened and then referred for more comprehensive eye examinations.

The AOA strongly recommends comprehensive eye examinations between the ages of six months and one year for infants and stresses the limitations of screenings.

"These findings are important, not only in terms of screening children for visual problems early, but also correcting vision problems to ensure optimal functioning in the classroom environment and opportunities to learn," the researchers say.

"Awareness also needs to extend beyond eye health professionals and include policy makers, as well as teachers and the wider community," they say.

'Visual hunger'

The study emphasizes why a regular, comprehensive eye examination by a doctor of optometry is so important. The earlier an eye condition is detected and diagnosed, the sooner the condition can be addressed, corrected and managed, says Glen Steele, O.D., chair of the AOA InfantSEE® and Children's Vision Committee. InfantSEE is a public health program managed by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation.

Dr. Steele travels thousands of miles each year in the states and abroad, making the case to doctors of optometry and parents about the essentialness of eye health and vision care for infants. Professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Steele is on a mission.

"There is a quotation I cherish: 'A child is born with visual hunger,'" says Dr. Steele, citing a comment attributed to Arnold Gesell, M.D., who co-authored the landmark Developmental Diagnosis with Catherine Amatruda in 1941.

Doctors of optometry, in partnership with parents, can feed that hunger.

"Even in early infant development, the eyes and vision are the pathfinders for the infant to extend out into their surrounding world," Dr. Steele adds.

Feeding the visual hunger

It's never too soon for parents to help support their children's visual development.

"For parents, visual readiness begins at birth," Dr. Steele says. "Visual readiness does not happen in isolation and needs guidance and involvement by a parent."

What can parents do? Dr. Steele recommends parents:

  • Be interactive and move with your child during play.
  • Arrange "tummy time" for infants. It's not just time on the floor. It is a wonderful time for explorations and satisfying curiosity.
  • Look in their eyes while doing any activity with them.
  • Play visual games with infants while feeding them solid foods, such as moving the utensil like an airplane as it goes into their mouths.
  • Select playthings with different sizes to begin development of size relationships.
  • Make that first appointment with your doctor of optometry for your infant, between the ages of six months and one year. Find a doctor of optometry near you.
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