With students returning to school next week the Association of Optometrists (AOP) is highlighting the link between good vision and academic development; urging parents to ensure their children are on a level footing this term by booking a sight test.
A recent study of four and five year olds published in the British Medical Journal links visual ability in young children to reading and writing levels(1). The study found those children with lower 'visual acuity', a measure of how well we view details, had significantly reduced literacy development even when other factors – such as cognitive skills and background – are taken into account.
Optometrist Henry Leonard, Clinical and Regulatory Officer at the AOP, commented that "a whole range of things can be affected by poor vision, including schooling and social development. Yet many children will not know if they have a vision problem. With few reference points they may believe the way they see is perfectly normal. While parents should look out for signs, in some cases no symptoms will be apparent so regular sight tests are essential."
He added "It is estimated one million children in the UK have an undiagnosed vision problem. When we look at how this can negatively affect a child's development, it's a really worrying figure. It's particularly important to detect and correct these problems during early childhood, to ensure that vision develops normally, as it can be difficult or impossible to correct once a child reaches the age of eight or nine. Parents are often quite shocked to realise their child has been struggling with schoolwork due to a visual problem, which can often be corrected with a simple pair of spectacles. It's very rewarding to see a child who was previously struggling, starting to enjoy reading and writing for the first time."
The AOP recommends that children are taken for a sight test around the age of three and then at least every two years, or as advised by your optometrist, so any vision problems can be treated early. There are many tests that an optometrist can carry out which are designed to engage children from a very young age or need no response to make the test easier for the child.
Children under the age of 16 are entitled to NHS-funded sight tests (covering the cost of a sight test), plus an optical voucher, which entitles parents or carers help towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses if required.
What to expect at your child's sight test
- At the beginning of the appointment your optometrist will ask about your family history, your child’s health generally and if you have any concerns about their sight. If your child is old enough the optometrist will also speak to them about their vision
- Several tests will be carried out in the test room to check your child's eyes are healthy. These can include shinning a light into the child's eyes, asking them to follow an object with their eyes and asking them to identify images, words or letters whilst looking through different lenses. The optometrist may also include a stereopsis test to check how your child's eyes are working together and a colour vision test to detect colour deficiencies
- The test will normally take around 20 minutes and you can stay with your child at all times
- Your optometrist will then let you know if your child would benefit from glasses, or any treatments, and advise when to return for their next sight test
(1)'Impact of visual acuity on developing literacy at age 4–5 years: a cohort-nested cross-sectional study', BMJ Open, 2016;6:e010434, Bruce, Fairley, Chambers, Wright, Sheldon
Notes to Editors
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Association of Optometrists
The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists and other optical professionals in the UK. We support our community of more than 16,500 members to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. As a founding member of the Optical Confederation we work with others to improve eye health for the public good. For more information, visit www.aop.org.uk
Sights tests and vision screening
Some children have their vision screened at school – this is usually a basic test, designed to pick up children who have reduced vision in one or both eyes. If a problem is suspected, children will usually be referred to an optometrist for a full sight test. Parents may assume that their child has been screened at school but this does not happen in all areas of the country. Even where this does happen, it is not usually until the age of four or five, so we recommend that all children visit their optometrist for a sight test around the age of three.
A sight test is a comprehensive check which can pick up many other conditions, including colour vision defects, problems with the development of 3D vision and any need for glasses. More information on children’s eye health can be found on the AOP website’s patient advice section.