Gov. Jerry Brown was on to something when he recently declared that every schoolchild should have the eyeglasses they need, as noted in a recent editorial (“Too many kids don’t get glasses they need,” Nov. 20). It is, after all, high time that California’s elected leaders take notice of the epidemic of untreated eye health problems in young children.
But we must remember that remedying childhood eye problems involves more than eye charts and eyeglasses. Eye health problems in children can be far more complex, and simple correction often is not enough.
The California Optometric Association long has advocated specific guidelines for children’s eye health, and doctors of optometry have offered free comprehensive eye exams and eyeglasses statewide for many years.
Unfortunately, the practice of a school employee or school nurse performing vision screenings can fail to uncover some of the most serious issues that affect schoolwork and behavior. Studies show that vision screenings miss 33 percent of children with vision, binocular or eye health problems. Studies also indicate that vision is responsible for 80 percent of what children learn in the early developmental years. Undetected and untreated eye and vision disorders can result in delayed reading and poorer outcomes in school.
According to the American Public Health Association, vision disorders affect one in four children and are the most prevalent disabling childhood conditions nationwide. Impaired vision can affect cognitive, emotional, neurological and physical development, and is associated with developmental delays, lower educational attainment, and a greater need for special education, vocational and social services.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, changes in federal and California laws have embraced pediatric eye care as essential for children. The laws define pediatric eye care as a comprehensive eye exam by an eye care professional. These changes ensure children under age 19 will have comprehensive eye exams and glasses, if needed, covered through their private or public health insurance plans.
The California Optometric Association recommends that children have their first comprehensive eye examination before age 1, and should have a comprehensive eye exam performed by an eye care professional prior to starting school. Lawmakers in California should require that schoolchildren have comprehensive eye exams by eye care professionals, such as the provisions in Senate Bill 430 that stalled in the Legislature this year.
Simply handing out eyeglasses only will gloss over real problems. We must do the hard work and make the investment to afford every child the full potential to learn and perform in school.
Dr. John Rosten is president-elect of the California Optometric Association.