The Eye Problem Your Child’s Vision Screening May Miss

[This is the part where I disclose that this is a promotional post for The Trained Eye. I should also disclose that I’m very stubborn and only mention services and companies I would recommend to a friend.]

You know how some kids have selective hearing? Their ears perk right up when they hear a candy bar being unwrapped in a neighboring town, but when you ask them to pick up their toys from five feet away? It’s as if they’ve gone deaf. My four-year-old does this trick very, very well. He’s got it down to a science.

But that’s not all.

Elliott also has selective sight.

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This kid can spot McDonald’s Golden Arches five miles off the highway, but his eyes don’t register the droplets of pee he leaves sprinkled behind on the toilet seat. It’s a boy thing, I’m told.

I often joke (threaten?) that I’m going to take him to the eye doctor because clearly he’s got vision problems (pun intended). And I’m about to make good on that threat, because when we registered him for Kindergarten earlier this month, we learned that in Illinois it’s actually required for kids to have eye exams when starting public school.

Are all eye exams created equal?

Up until that point, I hadn’t given much thought to his vision. When we visit his pediatrician, I turn the eye chart hanging on the back of the exam room door into a fun little game. It entertains him enough to prevent him from spinning around on the doctor’s stool or pecking at her keyboard. While we wait for her to arrive, I perform a (very amateur) vision test. I tell Elliott to stand in various places in the room and read the letters aloud to me.

Dr. Blatchford, O.D.

He always gets the letters right—even the tiny ones at the bottom—so the idea that he’d need a comprehensive eye exam at this age seemed like overkill. But then I found out that many kids have vision problems that cause them to struggle in school. These types of issues routinely go unnoticed during regular vision screenings. It’s estimated that up to 50% of these cases are missed!

Even when kids have good vision acuity (the “20/20” part of vision), their eyes can struggle to process or interpret what they read. That struggle might show up as blurry vision, double vision, and headaches. Or, they might have to read the same lines over and over before they comprehend it because their eyes don’t track the words properly.

Fortunately, optometrists trained in addressing these problems can provide vision training (sometimes called vision therapy) to help kids overcome their challenges.

How to know if your child needs vision therapy

I asked Dr. Sarah Blatchford, an optometrist at Hour Eye Care in Roscoe, IL, how we as parents would know if our child might need vision therapy. “The best place to start is always with an annual eye exam to make sure the child is wearing the best glasses or contact lens prescription if needed,” she said. “Sometimes the need for additional vision therapy is discovered by the optometrist. Other times parents or teachers may notice difficulty with reading or math, or headaches with near work. Children might complain of blurry or double vision, or avoid near work. Any child having academic difficulty in school should especially have an eye exam.”

“I enjoy talking to kids and getting to know them and making them feel comfortable and important.”

Sarah Blatchford, O.D.

Dr. Blatchford is so passionate about helping kids see better that she’s now offering pediatric vision therapy in her clinic. She’s a mom herself (and she’s a newly-minted grandma)! “I enjoy talking to kids and getting to know them and making them feel comfortable and important,” she said. “I always strive to be gentle and reassuring. I’m very familiar with active children as well. I raised two very active boys who are now 19 and 22.”

And boy am I glad to know that, because if she’s raised active boys, maybe she’ll be able to handle my human-tornado of a child when he comes in to her office for an exam. Dr. Blatchford is the only optometrist in the Greater Rockford Area providing vision therapy, too, so I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with her. Before we met, I didn’t know vision training existed!

Have vision problems ever caused difficulty for your child? How did you discover there was an issue?

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