The Optometrists Association Australia recommends a comprehensive eye test before school at age 3 even if there are no symptoms and then often during their school years. Regular checkups can provide preventative care, eye exercises and early correction where needed. Tests that should be done include those for distance and near vision, eye tracking and fixation skills, binocular vision, depth perception and colour vision. I like to suggest an annual check up particularly if there are symptoms, a family history of spectacles, eye diseases, learning difficulties or involvement with sports.
Most school tasks are based on vision and more than 80% of the information children receive about the world comes through their eyes. However more than 20% of children suffer from inadequate visual skills and up to 90% of children with reading problems have reduced visual skills. Early detection is very important and visual training i.e. eye exercises can be very beneficial.
Be An Eye Spy: As an observant parent, you can first detect signs that may indicate a problem. The most common are those affecting the ability to see clearly and sharply – but some special problems such as visual performance are not so easily recognised. These problems can even escape detection at school vision screenings. Look out for these signs:
- Squinting, rubbing, blinking a lot, fatigue, complaining of blackboard or reading problems
- Avoiding close work or holding a book very close to read or sitting close to TV
- Redness, crustiness, stinging, wateriness, sensitivity to light, burning, itchiness
- Eyes turning in or out, closing one eye to look at things, lid droopiness
- Head tilting, poor sitting posture
- Losing their place while reading, poor/short concentration, poor handwriting, letter/word reversal
- Headaches, double vision
- Clumsiness and problems with co-ordination (hand/body/eye), unable to sit still, poor sporting ability
Toys, Games And Your Childs Vision: From the moment of birth, your child is learning to see. Toys, games and playtime activities help by stimulating vision development. Recommended games include:
- Building toys
- Finger paints
- Arts and crafts
- Eye spy
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Brain teasers
- Bedtime stories
- Team sports
- Jump ropes
- Roller blades
- Ball games
- Card games
- Board games
Remember – movement and visual stimulation is crucial and my motto for good vision – blink, breathe and relax!
Tips For Reading: It is important for kids to adopt positive visual habits long-term. Some suggestions:
- Read in a room with bright and even lighting, without glare and large dark areas
- Don’t read in bed on your stomach or read by flashlight! – long term this will cause vision problems, neck problems and muscle strains – it is best to read while sitting up, angle the book towards you, in a chair with firm back support and feet on the floor – please avoid staring and straining to see
- Look away from your book or your close work every few minutes out the window or around the room
- Take a physical break from reading every 15 minutes
- School children should have a suitable place for homework that is their own & the chair and table should be the correct size for proper posture
- Wear your glasses only when and where you have been advised
TV Or No TV:
- Watch only educational shows with few commercials – help your child choose the programs and discuss afterwards
- Have a small light on when television is on
- No TV before school (not good for the brain!) &1 hour maximum per day –
- Sit at least 3 m away from the screen and look away from screen if commercial breaks
- For electronic and computer games: 20 min at a time, screen at least 50cm away and directly in front
- Make sure your child has a chance to develop other sources of entertainment and relaxation – provide plenty of opportunities to explore creative activities
- Don’t forget, parents are powerful role models!
Nutrition For Optimal Visual Functioning: The brain and the eyes comprise less than 2% of the total body weight. Yet they require approximately 25% of the body’s nutrition. Our eyes, like any other part of our body are affected by our environment and food – they don’t work independently of the body. Maximise your child’s vision and brain development with:
- A diet of high quality, fresh, nutrition-rich, unprocessed, raw or lightly steamed food
- Especially good for the eyes are fish, liver, orange coloured vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, carrots, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, parsley, broccoli, tomatoes, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, sprouts, low amounts of lean meat, plenty of water and sunshine!
- Avoid sugar, soft drinks, fried foods, takeaway, white bread, cakes, lollies, chocolate, food additives
Visual Signs of Nutritional deficiency include:
- Difficulty in adjusting to different light intensities, especially darkness
- Dry, burning, itching, red eyes
- Reduced clarity and focussing problems
- Concentration and energy problems
In conclusion, a child who is not working to his best capability should have a complete vision examination. As an adjunct to glasses, preventative eye care and vision therapy can train both the brain and eyes and are successful with lazy eyes and muscles, eye turns, short-sightedness, learning and behavioural difficulties.
Vision is the key to a child’s whole development – not only at school but also behaviourally and socially. Seeing, more than any other sense, guides and shapes your child’s experience of life. To care for your child’s vision is to care for their total development.