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Oregon parents should plan back-to-school eye exams for kids

A pediatric optometrist at OHSU Casey Eye Institute talks about the importance of vision checks for preschool and school-aged children.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Kids are back in the classroom, but if they can’t see the board, books, or tablets clearly it can make learning a real struggle. That’s why it is important for kids to get in for their yearly eye exams.

Nearly 15% of kids between three and five have a vision problem and need glasses.

“By having your child’s eyes checked before they go into school – you’re potentially catching vision problems that could impede their learning and success in school,” Pediatric Optometrist at OHSU Casey Eye Institute Dr. Margaret Overstreet said.

Just think about how much learning is done through your eyes. In fact, research shows that 80% of learning during the first years of education occurs through sight, according to the Casey Eye Institute.  

Children with vision problems often go undiagnosed until they start school. A delayed diagnosis can lead to lasting vision problems and even developmental delays.

“Sometimes it can cause behavioral issues as well, because if the child can’t see there’s no incentive to sit there and learn," Overstreet said. “Think about dyslexia testing, ADHD testing; it’s a good idea to have an eye exam while undergoing those testing's to make sure that vision is not contributing to those learning difficulties or learning delays.”

Vision screenings for preschoolers can help find vision problems while their eyes are still developing – and some disorders can even be reversed if it’s treated before they’re five years old.  

“Vision screenings look different, depending on the age of the child. If the child is older, it may look like standing in the hallway and reading some letters off of an eye chart.”

If your child is younger, perhaps they don’t know their letters yet, then they could have what’s called a 'photo vision screening.' 

“That is when a child looks at a special camera-type device and the camera can detect high refractive error or high glasses prescription that may need to be addressed by a pediatric eye doctor,” she said.

Here are some things to look out for in your child that could be warning signs of a vision problem:

  • Squinting to see things far away
  • Holding things up really close to their face
  • A crossing or drifting eye 

If your child is experiencing any of these, Overstreet recommends that you get them in to see an eye doctor.

Oregon has made vision checks a priority. The legislature requires that every child, 7-year-olds and younger, heading to public schools for the first time show proof of a vision screening.

“Oftentimes children don’t know that they have a vision problem. So it’s really important for us, and our community partners, to do the vision screenings and to do the comprehensive eye exams to detect these problems when children may not be able to voice that they have a problem themselves,” Overstreet said.

With a grant from the Oregon State Elks Association and Elks volunteers, the children’s eye clinic at OHSU Casey Eye Institute provides free vision screenings for preschoolers all over the state. The Elks Preschool Vision Screening Program screens more than 8,000 kids every year.

“They go out into preschools, into programs, even libraries and other community centers across the state to perform vision exams and screenings,” Overstreet said.

Ideally, she said you want to get your child in before the school year, but there’s never a bad time to start addressing your child’s vision.

“We want to gather these children and we want to have them in for an eye exam so we can put glasses on them and treat their vision, treat their eye alignment so that they can have visual success in the long term.”

For more information and to find a vision screening near you click here.


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