By Josephine Woolington
JULY 30, 2014
Children ages 7 and younger who need their vision checked before school starts can get a free screening this weekend. The Eugene and Springfield public libraries are holding several vision screenings for 3- to 7-year-olds, starting Saturday.
The state Legislature last year passed a law mandating eye tests for children 7 and younger entering public school or a prekindergarten program.
At least 15 percent of preschoolers have an undetected vision problem that needs to be treated with glasses, said Joannah Vaughan, director of the preschool vision screening program at Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, a part of Oregon Health & Science University’s Casey Eye Institute in Portland.
The screenings are intended to determine whether a child has nearsightedness or farsightedness — eyesight problems that can develop into amblyopia, a common vision disorder known as lazy eye. The disease is the most common cause of blindness in adults, Vaughan said.
More than 11,000 Oregon preschoolers may have amblyopia, she said. Doctors can successfully treat children with lazy eye before they reach the age of 7, said Vaughan, who has advocated for mandatory preschool vision screenings since 2003.
The ideal time for children to have a vision screening is at age 3, she said.
“Many parents don’t think a 3-year-old has a vision problem,” Vaughan said. “The kid doesn’t say anything because the child doesn’t have any idea of what the world should look like. If the world looks blurry, that’s just normal to them.”
Eighty percent of learning happens through the visual system, Vaughan said. Children who need glasses can be at least two years developmentally behind their peers, she said.
“We’re trying to educate parents,” Vaughan said. “We don’t expect the child to tell us that they have a vision problem.”
The Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, the Oregon State Elks Association, Oregon Library Association and the Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation partnered to organize the free screenings for children, to be held across the state at public libraries for the next several months.
Vaughan said the goal is to screen half of the 45,000 children who will enter kindergarten in September.
At least 40 public libraries in the state have agreed to host the screenings, she said.
While not free, screenings also can be arranged by parents with an ophthalmologist.
All children who are screened will be given a proof-of-vision-screening certificate. Children who do not pass the screening will be referred to an eye doctor for a dilated eye exam.
If a student fails to provide proof of an eye test, the public school or preschool program can withhold report cards, according to the law. Schools cannot prohibit children from attending classes if they haven’t been screened.
“We’re trying to educate parents. We don’t expect the child to tell us that they have a vision problem.”
Director of preschool vision screening program at Elks
Children’s Eye Clinic