Should eye exams be mandatory for Canadian children?

An ongoing conversation in the world of optometry is whether eye exams should be mandatory for children. The topic was recently discussed in The Globe and Mail.

Why would vision be so important that vision tests might be considered mandatory? It’s because 80% of learning at school is done through the visual system, meaning that vision problems can play a huge role in struggles at school. Having good vision can set your child up for successful learning to reach their full potential.

A school-aged child’s eyes are constantly in use in the classroom. With poor vision, children have to work harder to focus, often leading to headaches and fatigue. Many children don’t even realize that they have a vision problem, because it’s the only way they’ve ever seen – they assume everyone sees the same way.

There are signs that parents and educators can look out for. Here are some symptoms children might have if they have an undetected vision problem:

  • headaches
  • irritability
  • avoiding near or distance work
  • covering or rubbing their eyes
  • tilting their head
  • using a finger to keep their place while reading
  • losing their place while reading
  • missing words when reading
  • performing below their potential

Children should have a minimum of one eye exam between ages two and five. But according to The Globe and Mail’s recent article, “currently, only 14 per cent of Canadian children under the age of six receive professional eye care.”

It’s estimated that 20% of all school age children are affected by visual dysfunctions. On top of that, studies have shown that 60% of children diagnosed with a learning problem actually suffer from undetected vision problems. We need to catch these vision problems early, before they have the opportunity to affect learning.

“Many parents and teachers have mistaken vision problems for behavioural issues or learning disabilities. But a child will not tell a parent if they cannot see properly (if they don’t know themselves). Systematically detecting vision issues in children will not only help them avoid unnecessary academic struggles, but it will also reduce the burden on schools, who must spend huge resources to help students who are falling behind.” - The Globe and Mail

Canada wouldn’t be the first government to mandate vision screenings for children.

“It’s been done elsewhere. Since 2004, all children in Massachusetts entering kindergarten must provide proof that they have undergone a vision screening within the last year. The government explains that school entry is the perfect “safety net” that ensures a proper start to academic life.” - The Globe and Mail

What do you think? Should comprehensive vision testing be required for Canada’s school-aged children, to ensure they have the best shot possible at success in school?

By Dr. Nazima Sangha of Family Eyecare Centre