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The value of vision: Why you should get your child’s eyes checked before they start school

Vancouver Coastal Health encourages parents to get their child a comprehensive eye exam by Kindergarten
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Getting your children’s vision evaluated early ensures they are set up for success in time for school

As with any other part of your young child's growing body, their eyes need check-ups early and often. When vision problems are found early, it is often possible to correct them or prevent them from getting worse, which is why it’s crucial to not wait until your child can read before looking into their visual capacity.

Early childhood is a critical period for developing the sense of sight, and vision is important for children’s learning, playing and overall healthy development. Early intervention is key in treating children who may experience vision problems.

"Getting a comprehensive eye exam before school entry helps detect vision issues that are harder to correct at older ages; it also sets up your child for optimal learning," says Dr. Ceinwen Pope, Medical Health Officer at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

"Over the past few years, data trends have suggested that very few young children in VCH have had an eye exam with an optometrist. As a result, we are actively encouraging parents and caregivers to take their young children to the optometrist for an eye exam prior to Kindergarten entry."

If you are looking for an optometrist in your community, you can find an optometrist with BC Doctors of Optometry, a quick and easy online resource.

Child eye exams and family history

Many vision conditions and complications can run in the family. As such, it is important to take your child to an eye doctor by age three if there is a family history of vision problems such as lazy eye (amblyopia), crossed eyes (strabismus) or wearing strong prescription glasses.

"It can be difficult to detect vision problems at home, but some signs to look out for include the child frequently squinting, rubbing or closing one or both eyes, turning the head to one side, bumping into things or if you note eyes appear crossed or turned," explains Dr. Pope.

You can expect your optometrist to provide a child-friendly eye exam and to evaluate your child's vision even if they don't talk or read yet. They will review your child’s health history and use gentle tests and equipment to assess basic eye health and various aspects of eyesight and vision.

"In B.C., eye exams are covered by MSP up until the age of 19, though it is a good idea to call clinics in advance to ask about extra fees," Dr. Pope advises.

Comprehensive eye exam vs. eye screening

It's important to clearly distinguish the difference between a comprehensive eye exam and vision screening. Most importantly, vision screening is not a substitute for an eye exam.

An optometrist or ophthalmologist performs comprehensive eye exams, which include a full assessment of your child’s vision and eye health. Vision screening, on the other hand, comprises tests done usually by your child’s primary care practitioner.

"Vision screening involves a limited assessment that can detect signs of specific conditions but doesn’t capture the full range of vision problems in children," Dr. Pope describes.

Lifestyle habits for children’s eye health

Protect your child’s eyes at home by limiting screen time, wearing UV eye protection and ensuring proper nutrition and rest for healthy brain and eye development. You can also foster healthy vision by doing activities that stimulate vision development, like reading daily and playing with toys like puzzles and hidden object games.

Caring for your child's eye health cannot be understated. "Vision is an important part of healthy childhood development — it helps children interact with and learn from their environment and people close to them," says Dr. Pope.

Book your child for a comprehensive eye exam before school entry to ensure the best chance of discovering and addressing any potential vision issues early to set them up for learning to the best of their ability.

For more information about vision services for your child, visit vch.ca.