We all agree that daily school attendance is one of the keys to a child’s success in school. But what happens to the 25 percent of children who experience vision problems?
Poor vision can have a significant impact on health, school achievement, and emotional and social development, affecting a child’s ability to learn. Research shows that children with vision problems are nearly three times more at risk for dropping out of school.
In Florida, vision screenings are required for children in kindergarten and first, third and sixth grades. Students entering Florida schools for the first time in kindergarten through fifth grades are also required to have vision screenings.
These screenings are designed to alert parents that their children might have vision problems. The screenings are a good start, but they are only that, a start. Sadly, despite best intentions, children who fail vision screenings at school often don’t get the vision care they need. Two studies published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that over 50 percent of children who fail a vision screening do not receive the recommended follow-up care by an eye doctor.
One reason for this lack of follow-up care is inadequate communication with the families. One study found that two months later, 50 percent of parents were unaware their child had failed a vision screening.
This is a huge challenge for health specialists and nurses at schools in our region, such as Sue Troxler RN, a health specialist for Manatee County Schools; Linda Glover, the DOH-Sarasota School health Supervisor; and their nurses. They work with schools, school nurses, and school support personnel to make sure parents are receiving the information about the vision needs of their children.
When a screening uncovers a vision problem, a letter is sent to the parent referring the child to a local optometrist for diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes, even though the communication has been successful, the cost of the needed treatment keeps the parents from obtaining the recommended vision care.
As part of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, efforts are underway in both Manatee and Sarasota counties to ensure all students who need vision care will be taken care of. In Manatee County, school nurses have access to vouchers that will cover the cost of eye exams and glasses. In Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation contributes to a fund managed by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to make sure every Sarasota County school can purchase items like eyeglasses, shoes, hearing aids and clothing for students on a one-time emergency basis.
The vision screenings paired with follow-up care will make it easy for children to get the vision care they need.