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Detecting vision problems in kids

August 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sometimes when a child shows a disinterest in school or their grades start to fall, many parents might suspect a learning disorder. Experts say undetected vision problems are present in 60 percent of students identified as problem learners. California doesn't require kids to get comprehensive eye exams before they start school, but many optometrists say it should. Before school starts, Samantha Frias always makes sure to check in with her optometrist. She learned this lesson the hard way in 3rd grade.

"I couldn't see the chalkboard and then I told my mom that I needed glasses, but she thought I was crazy," said Frias.

Her mom didn't believe her because she passed all of the vision screenings at school with flying colors. The nurse even told her that she had 20/20 vision.

Her optometrist Dr. Hilary Hawthorne said that couldn't be farther from the truth. Samantha had a moderate case of near-sightedness.

She says many students like Samantha get missed and are labeled with learning disorders.

"It's almost as if 60 percent of your learning is through vision. While you are developing, especially up to the age of 12, you are learning most of your information through what you see," said Dr. Hawthorne.

Dr. Hawthorne says the signs and symptoms of visual problems appear long before a child attends school. Parents just need to know what to look for.

"The first symptom that I usually hear from a parent is, 'My child sitting too close to the television,'" said Dr. Hawthorne.

The California Optometric Association says 90 percent of school age children do not receive yearly comprehensive eye exams and they should. But the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend it.

"I agree that all young children should have yearly screening eye exams, but what is debatable is who should do it," said Dr. Chris Tolcher.

Pediatricians perform eye exams during routine checkups. But optometrists say it's not enough.

"There isn't enough equipment in a pediatrician's office to evaluate the visual system," said Dr. Hawthorne.

Samantha says now that she can see clearly the sky is the limit.

"I can do anything now with my eyes," said Frias.

If you suspect your child has a vision problem, talk to your pediatrician. Medi-Cal and many health insurance companies cover optometric eye exams, but the California Optometric Association has a list of local eye doctors who will perform this service for free or low cost.

 

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