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Clearly, early attention to child's eye care holds myriad benefits

| Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, 7:33 p.m.

Good vision helps children to succeed at all the important work of childhood: playing, making friends and learning.

Occasionally, patients at my optometric practice mention that a young child doesn't need an eye exam because he or she isn't reading yet. They may be surprised when I tell them that many of the vision problems that we see in children can be diagnosed quite young. Even with an infant, we make sure the eyes move and track objects properly. With a harmless light, we objectively measure the shape of the eye and determine if a child is excessively nearsighted or farsighted, and we'll notice if one eye differs from the other. These aren't common problems, but when they occur, it's important to address them early. Treatment works best when children are still developing their visual abilities, including the ability to communicate visual information to the brain.

Early diagnosis of vision problems is so important that the American Optometric Association created a program called InfantSee. Participating optometrists like me will provide a free, comprehensive infant eye assessment for children between 6 and 12 months of age. It's always a pleasure to see these babies in my practice and know that we are making sure their eyes are as healthy as they can be.

As these children become preschoolers, they continue to rapidly develop the visual abilities that will be so important to them throughout their lives. This is when parents watch for vision problems like crossed eyes or lazy eye. Crossed eyes, or strabismus, involves one or both eyes turning inward or outward. Amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, is a lack of clear vision in one eye. Parents and caregivers should also be alert to behavioral signs of vision problems such as holding a book too close, squinting, head-tilting or sensitivity to light.

In school-age children, everyone knows to watch for kids who can't see the blackboard. Nearsightedness is one of the most common — and most easily corrected — vision complaints. But the inability to focus your vision on objects at a distance isn't the only thing to watch for. Believe it or not, even bad posture while reading might be a clue. You might think it's just an odd choice for your sixth-grader to slump across a desk with her head tilted sideways and resting on one arm while she reads. But she may have subconsciously chosen that reading position because it blocks one eye. This is a coping strategy for reading with a pair of eyes that don't work as a team as well as they should.

When certain visual skills haven't developed properly, kids may struggle with learning. They may avoid reading and other close work, or they may attempt it but have limited success. Some get headaches or become unusually tired. Sometimes, undetected and untreated vision problems cause the same symptoms as learning disabilities or hyperactivity disorders. Because of these similarities, some of these kids may also have an undetected vision problem. Uncorrected, these deficiencies can have lifelong implications. This is why we recommend eye exams at ages 1, 3 and 5 and annual exams for school-age kids. As an optometrist, nothing makes me happier than to see a child overcome a problem and develop healthy vision by getting the right diagnosis at the right time.

Danielle Staresinic, O.D., is owner of Lawrenceville Vision Care.

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