A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that young children with poorer vision had reduced literacy levels, even when other factors, such as cognitive skills and background, are taken into account. Optometrist Henry Leonard, Clinical and Regulatory Officer at the Association of optometrists, said, "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 glasses."
Parents should be alert for signs that their children could have sight problems. Signs include their child having difficulty concentrating, behavioural problems, complaining of headaches, sitting too close to the television and rubbing their eyes a lot. Children, especially young children, may not be aware themselves that they have a problem or they may not be able to explain to an adult about their vision difficulties.
Including a sight test in your back to school routine is a great way to ensure that your child's vision is not forgotten about. Sight tests are free for all children under the age of 16 and for children in full time education until the age of 19. If your child needs glasses help towards their cost is also available through the NHS. Helen Tilley, optometrist at Monnow Eyecare, recommends that children are taken for a sight test around the age of three and then at least every two years. She says, “It’s not necessary for pre-school toddlers and young children to be able to read to have a sight test because we use pictures for younger children”.
Other things that can keep your child’s eyes healthy include regular outdoor play of at least an hour, healthy eating with lots of colourful fruit and vegetables and providing good quality sunglasses – those that have a CE mark on them.