About 80 percent of all babies are born farsighted — able to see objects clearly at a distance but less clearly close up. Some five percent are born nearsighted, or unable to see objects at a distance clearly.
Approximately 15 percent are born with nothing wrong with the refractive parts of the eye — the cornea and crystalline lens which bend light and focus it properly on the retina. Farsightedness usually decreases as a child ages, typically normalizing to a negligible value by the age of 7-8.
After a child grows and the incidence of farsightedness decreases, that of nearsightedness increases. Many school-age children and teens first discover they are nearsighted when they have difficulty reading the writing on the board at school. Nearsightedness usually occurs before age 25.
Vision skills for school
Your school-age child's eyes are constantly in use in the classroom and at play. When his or her vision is not functioning properly, learning and participation in recreational activities can suffer.
Good vision involves many different skills working together to enable your child not only to see clearly but also to understand what he or she sees.
Those skills include:
Ability to see clearly and comfortably at 13-16 inches, the distance at which school deskwork should be performed.
Ability to see clearly and comfortably at 10 feet or more.
Ability to use the two eyes together.
Eye Movement Skills
Ability to aim the eyes accurately, and move them smoothly across a page and quickly and accurately from one object to another.
Ability to be aware of things to the side while looking straight ahead.
Ability to use the eyes and hands together.
If any of these or other vision skills is lacking or not functioning properly, your child's eyes have to work harder. This can lead to blurred vision, headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain symptoms.
Why thorough vision examinations are important
Don't assume your child has good vision because he or she passed a school vision screening. A 20/20 score means only that your child can see at 20 feet what he or she should be able to see at that distance. It does not measure any of the other vision skills needed for learning.
Vision screenings are important but they should not be substituted for a thorough vision examination.
Things you can do
There are things you can do to help ensure that your child's vision is ready for school each year and to relieve the visual stress of schoolwork.
Be alert for symptoms that may indicate your child has a vision problem. Note if your child frequently:
- Loses his or her place while reading.
- Avoids close work.
- Holds reading material closer than normal.
- Tends to rub his or her eyes.
- Has headaches.
- Turns or tilts their head to use one eye only.
- Makes reversals when reading or writing.
- Uses a finger to maintain their place while reading.
- Omits or confuses small words when reading.
- Performs below potential.
- Closes one eye while reading.
Make sure your child's homework area is evenly lighted and free from glare. Furniture should be the right size for proper posture. During periods of close concentration, have your child take periodic breaks. Rest breaks are also recommended when your child is using a computer or playing video games.
To make TV viewing easier on your child's eyes:
- Be sure the room has overall soft lighting.
- Place the set to avoid glare and reflections.
- Watch from a distance at least five times the width of the screen.
Be sure your child's hours away from school include time for exercise and creative play. Both can help keep his or her vision skills functioning properly.
Teach your child eye protection through these safety rules:
- Keep away from the targets of darts, bows-and-arrows, air guns and missile-throwing toys.
- Don't shine laser pointers into anyone's eyes. Teach them laser pointers are not toys.
- Don't run with or throw sharp objects.
- Wear safety goggles when using chemistry sets, power tools and household and yard chemicals. (Note: Be certain your child is mature enough to handle these items safely, and provide proper supervision.)
Thorough vision care is important
Because a change in vision can occur without you or your child realizing it, have your child's eyes examined every year.
A thorough eye examination should include:
- A review of your child's health and vision history.
- Tests for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, color perception, lazy eye, crossed-eyes, eye coordination, depth perception and focusing ability.
- An eye health examination.
If your child's eyes need help
After assessing your child's test results, glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy may be prescribed. He or she may also recommend preventive measures, such as mild prescription lenses to be worn only when doing schoolwork or watching television. These may help relieve stress on your child's eyes.
Vision therapy is prescribed for conditions that cannot adequately be treated with glasses or contact lenses alone. By reinforcing or re-teaching vision skills, conditions such as poor eye coordination and movement, lazy eye and perceptual problems can be improved.
Your care and concern for your child's vision can enrich his or her future while helping develop eye care habits for a lifetime of good vision.