Dr. Jane Woford gives a pediatric eye exam. (Photo: Eye Care Center of Northern Colorado).

As children grow, their eyes change quickly. Careful attention to a child’s eye health can help catch problems early, while their eyes are still developing.

A child can have 20/20 vision and still experience vision issues. Each eye might have perfect vision, but not work well together to create a clear picture.

That was the case with Boulder parent Emily Cooper’s son. (name has been changed at her request.) “David had always passed the pediatrician’s eye tests, but he failed the standard school vision test in second grade. We went to see Dr. Jeff Berger, an optometrist at Carbon Valley Eye Care, and learned that David had a muscle focusing engagement problem. Although he was always placed in his class’ highest reading group, he complained to us that reading was a challenge for him. He was using his ‘smarts’ to compensate for not being able to process information that was coming into the left eye. We did vision therapy and by the middle of second grade he was wearing glasses to help the muscle,” Cooper said.

David finished vision therapy last year and is entering fifth grade with a contact lens in one eye. “He is still a reluctant reader, but Dr. Berger did a series of reading comprehension and IQ tests and his scores improved drastically,” Cooper added.

Signs that your child may have eye or vision problems

The American Optometric Association recommends that children get their first eye exam between six and twelve months of age, the second exam around three years of age, and the third exam before kindergarten. In accordance with Colorado state guidelines, students new to the school district, at selected grade levels, and by teacher referral, are screened in the fall for vision and hearing. Appropriate referrals are then made to the parent/guardian. But ultimately, parents need to be vigilant for possible vision problems.

According to Dr. Jane Wolford of the Eye Care Center of Northern Colorado, headaches and reluctance to read, a family history of prescription glasses or eye muscle surgery are indications that your child may have a vision problem. “Poor school performance or school performance that doesn’t correlate to intelligence is also a sign that your child should be seen by an eye care specialist,” she said. “When a child is too young to read the eye charts we have many objective tests that will test a child’s vision,” Wolford added.

Dr. Wolford refers patients who have learning-related vision problems to optometrists who specialize in determining how well the eyes and brain work together to process what is seen.

Visual exercises help improve eye movement control and eye coordinaton. (Photo: Carbon Valley Eye Care).

Dr. Berman provides vision therapy to patients as young as six months, but the bulk of his patients are in third to fourth grade. “When functional vision issues are left untreated a child’s ability to read, have good balance and coordination, and play sports can be affected. Vision therapy, similar to physical therapy, aims to help patients obtain information better by performing visual exercises that help improve eye movement control and eye coordination,” Berman said.

So have your child start the year off with all the tools they need to process information easily with good vision, in order to avoid frustration at school and sports.

By Barbra Cohn for Raised in the Rockies