By Preston Fassel

With advancements in our understanding of child psychology has come the revelation that not all children respond well to the same style of teaching. While for generations it was assumed that education was a sort of one size fits all experience for all students, we now know that some children respond better to reading information in a book, while others are more likely to absorb information if they see it depicted on a classroom wall in charts, graphs, and images, while others still will best respond to hands-on, kinesthetic approaches. What the majority of all learning styles have in common, though, is that they’re almost uniformly visual. Indeed, whether it be reading, watching a presentation, or doing an activity, vision plays a vital role in childhood education. Per a study conducted by Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, 80% of classroom learning is visual in nature—meaning that for children with refractive errors, glasses are a vital component of their academic career.

With back-to-school season upon us, it’s something important to keep in mind, especially regarding preventative and diagnostic children’s eye exams. In the years I spent working in an optometric practice, I witnessed firsthand that many parents only schedule exams for their children once they begin struggling in school, demonstrate obvious visual impairment, or struggle with sports. By that point, though, significant harm may have been done to their education or socialization if the problem has been ongoing and they’ve either been hiding it, or it’s flown under the radar. I can speak from experience: even though I complained to my parents in second grade I was having difficulty seeing, a less-than-thorough exam (he didn’t even refract me!) led to them being told I didn’t need visual correction. By chance, I kept getting put in the front row of classes for the next several years, so academics were never a problem, but I ended up bombing out of every sports team I tried out for due to what was taken to be a lack of coordination and poor motor skills. It came as no surprise to me when, aged thirteen, I finally ended up in the back of several classes and a note was sent home encouraging my parents to get my eyes checked. Sure enough—a thorough exam determined I’m a -2.00 in both eyes with mild astigmatism, and I can reliably hit a baseball and make a basket these days. While sports were never my passion, I can’t help but think about how unhappy parts of my adolescence may have been.

All of this is to say, as an ECP, it’s vital to encourage your patients to get thorough preventative and diagnostic exams for their kids, and not wait until they begin exhibiting issues or a note gets sent home. Think of it like a dental checkup: we hope our kids don’t have cavities, but, if they do, we want to know so we can address the issue. If a child is old enough to go to school, they’re old enough to get an eye exam to make sure they can excel in school. Be sure, too, to educate parents of children who do need glasses on the benefits of a quality AR treatment. My first pair of glasses were dispensed by an “old school” practice in rural Oklahoma that thought tints were the be-all-end-all of glare protection, so I spent several years looking like I’d walked out of a 1970s yearbook. It wasn’t until I went to college and got glasses from a “modern” dispensary that I was introduced to the wonders of AR. It was a life changing experience, and this was in 2005. Today, with digital screens and technology being such a huge part of the educational experience (can we say “Zoom”?), AR is a must-have for all glasses-wearers, and children are no exception. Let parents know what all of their options are so they can make the best decision for themselves. Additionally, make sure that any children’s eye exam includes a discussion with the parents about sun protection—because of the larger amount of time children tend to spend outdoors than adults, a significant portion of their lifetime sun exposure will happen before they’re 18. Encourage the use of sunglasses or photochromic lenses that will give them additional protection and comfort.

It takes a village to raise a child, and, in today’s global village, one of those residents is the ECP. It may not occur to many parents that even if their children aren’t displaying readily apparent refractive error, they may still require correction. That’s why it’s up to us to take the initiative and make sure not only our patients but their children are receiving the highest quality eyecare. Parents will thank you—and one day, the kids may, too.