Promoting Healthy Vision for Children

January 2014 - Since 2008, the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health has been collaborating with the Vision Institute of Canada and the Canadian Association of Optometrists to widen the circle of knowledge around the importance of promoting vision health for Aboriginal peoples across Canada. The most recent publication, Children and Their Vision: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know, focuses on the need for regular comprehensive eye examinations as part of every child’s health care, just like visits to the doctor and dentist. 

Children and Their Vision: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know contains accessible information about why establishing comprehensive eye care early in life is important for a child’s long term development. The heart of this booklet is located in the understanding that “vision is one of the most important senses for a child’s development. Roughly 80% of what children learn is gained through vision, so it’s important to start early to ensure that children have healthy eyes.” Useful information is included such as milestones for vision development for children from newborn to five years, what to expect at a child’s eye exam, and the difference between a simple eye test and testing vision development. Eyesight problems like far and near sightedness, astigmatism and amblyopia (lazy eye) are described in plain language alongside a checklist of symptoms and probable treatment. A section called ‘myth busters’ challenges adult assumptions about how children see. To begin with children don’t always know they have a vision problem – they think they see the same as everyone else. Consequently, the symptoms around the undetected vision problems are often misinterpreted and it is that misunderstanding that can cause long-term problems. For example, an eye coordination problem can present similar signs and symptoms as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Fortunately the eye coordination problem can be treated with eye exercises and glasses.

Dr. Paul Chris, Executive Director of the Vision Institute of Canada and a strong advocate for Aboriginal vision health, believes that responsibility for children’s vision health should extend beyond parents to teachers and school administrators. He suggests that “up until grade 3, school children are learning to read; by grade 4, they are reading to learn! If a child has an uncorrected vision or eye health problem, making their eyes tired and irritated or straining to see words either in a book, on a board or a computer, the child’s comprehension and ease of learning is seriously disadvantaged. Vision and eye health is also about reading and literacy.” According to research done in October 2012 by the Vision Institute of Canada involving eye examinations for 150 elementary pupils in the Sagamok First Nation Elementary School in Northern Ontario,1 in 3 children were found to need glasses. This research outcome not only highlights the need for continuing efforts to improve vision health care for Aboriginal children but also suggests a mutual responsibility of care between caregivers, educators and the wider community.

Children and Their Vision: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know is a useful resource for new parents but is also useful for those who have never experienced vision problem and might not know what to look for. Additional information can be found on the Canadian Association of Optometrists website, in particular a video called 20/20 Isn't Everything - A child's vision is critical to learning: 


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