Tahlequah Daily Press

August 16, 2013

The eyes have it

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com

Most schools in this area are back in session, and students are establishing routines, completing homework and learning new skills.

Local optometrists agree one of the key components to educational success is a child’s ability to see properly. August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, and area experts urge parents to have regular screenings and eye exams.

“Vision screenings and eye exams are of primary importance,” said Dr. Tom Baker, of Family Eye Care. “No age is too young to have a screening, and parents should have their children examined before they begin school. We cannot do the same types of things with a 2-year-old that we can with a 20-year-old, but valuable information can be gained by screening young children.”

According to the Envision Foundation, proper vision screenings are essential for early detection and intervention of vision problems in children.

More than 80 percent of learning is visual, and Baker said a child often has no frame of reference when it comes to visual impairment.

“It’s different when you deal with children,” said Baker. “Children can’t come home and say to their parents, ‘I have an astigmatism,’ because to them, the way they see is normal.”

Dr. Alissa Proctor, associate professor and chief of the Infant Vision Clinic at Northeastern State University’s College of Optometry, said if kids’ vision issues are not properly diagnosed, it can have a huge impact on their ability to learn.

“We’ve seen many, many cases where children are documented as being diagnosed as having autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, when all they really need is glasses,” said Proctor.

Baker agrees.

“My experience is many children who are labeled as having attention disorder problems also have visual problems,” said Baker. “Now, wearing glasses doesn’t necessarily fix a behavioral issue. For instance, a child who is hyperopic - or far-sighted - cannot maintain concentration when told to sit in a chair and read a two-page paper. As soon as the eyes go out of focus, he’s up doing something else.”

Eye exams should be scheduled for babies

Proctor recommends having a child’s eyes examined for the first time when she reaches 6 to 9 months of age.

“There’s also a national program, InfantSEE.org, in which parents can type in their ZIP code, and find a list of doctors that will provide a comprehensive eye exam at no charge.”

Proctor said school-age children who have no documented vision problems should have eye exams every year or two.

“This schedule should be maintained until, well, they reach the age when they need readers. You know, when you have to hold a paper farther away for it to come into focus,” said Proctor, with a laugh.

NSU’s vision clinic takes children from ages birth through 7. They accept SoonerCare and most insurance, and appointments are available on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

“We also have a pediatric vision clinic, in which we see mostly at [Cherokee Nation] Hastings [Hospital],” said Proctor. “Also we do school vision screenings every Friday morning. We screen about 80 kids per morning, and visit all the local elementary and rural schools. It’s important to get them the help they need to be successful in school.”

Baker said, given the vast expanse of electronic devices today, proper vision care is key not only to educational success, but in the workforce.

“Computers, and all the smaller electronic devices, are not going away,” said Baker.

“Every single job requires you to work with one or several of these. If you cannot see  properly, you cannot function. If you cannot function, you cannot perform at your job, and if you can’t do that, you can’t keep your job.”