Back to school

Ian Beasley on detecting problems early and providing the greatest opportunity to ease normal visual development

Schoolboy having an eye test

A critical assessment of oneself has led me to believe that miracles really do happen: stubborn, self-obsessed, grumpy, and an appearance that is definitely in ‘Tinder swipe left’ territory. Yet, somewhat against the odds, I find myself suitably attached, and the proud father of two teenage daughters. Undoubtedly my greatest achievement.

Casting my mind back to the early days of parenting, I vividly recall the joyful moment my fragile cherubs entered the world, before, let’s be frank, I was hurtled unforgivingly into a stark reality of sleep deprivation, a mountain of soiled nappies, and an endless cycle of bottle preparation. Yet, the struggle in the early days, or rather weeks, months, years…, is of course outweighed by the fond memories of key milestones in my girls’ lives: the first smile, those uncertain stuttering steps, and their primitive attempts to communicate through screams, indecipherable babbles, and high-pitched shrieks.

As an optometrist, also firmly etched into my memory is the first time I examined my children’s eyes at barely a few months of age. Fellow parents are often bewildered by the fact that it is possible to do an eye examination at such a young age and typically scoff: ‘but how can they read the letters on the vision chart?’. The general reluctance of parents to take their children for regular visits to the local optician is revealed in the frightening statistic that around one in five school-aged children have an undiagnosed vision problem. 

It is not easy to explain why there are mixed feelings about taking youngsters for eye examinations, particularly in the years where they develop most, given that they are readily accessible, NHS-funded, and something that many children find to be a fascinating experience. My own theory is that an emphasis on eye health is clearly absent in the Personal Child Health Record (or the Red Book as it is affectionately referred to in our household) with no reference to ‘optician’ or ‘optometrist’ in the 100-page document. Yet, when it comes to teeth, parents are advised in this authoritative booklet that they can take their child ‘to see an NHS dentist for preventative advice as soon as he/she is born’. 

It seems that the detection of eye problems relies on the observant parent in the early years or through a rudimentary ‘eye sight check’ promised during the first year at school. To be blunt, I think this advice falls short given that some eye conditions are time-sensitive and may not display any obvious signs or symptoms. 

Naturally, detecting problems early on offers the greatest opportunity to ease normal visual development. With this is mind, surely a comprehensive eye examination with an optometrist is a sensible approach to take, to manage symptoms and help prepare our little ones for whatever life has to throw their way in the coming years. 

Children return to the classroom shortly, perhaps a perfect time to book a sight test and make sure they’re set for the term ahead?      

Read more on children’s eye health in our Why vision matters leaflet. You can also find out what’s involved in a sight test in our animated video and patient leaflet

Ian BeasleyOptometrist, Dr Ian Beasley, is Clinical Editor for Optometry Today, Head of Education for the Association of Optometrists and postgraduate researcher at Aston University