Optometrists offer early vision screening for kids through ‘See to Learn’

Jim was 4 before he knew that trees had leaves and that there were puffy things in the sky called clouds.

Eyeglasses opened his eyes to a world he never knew existed.

The national Eye Care Council estimates that 20 percent of children enter kindergarten each year with vision problems. Through a program called “See to Learn,” they hope to reduce that number.

The See to Learn program is designed to help children get the vision care they need before they start school, said Paul Unruh, optometrist with Grene Vision Group in Hillsboro.

Unruh is one of many participating optometrists in Kansas offering free vision assessments as part of the program.

Unruh said the program is targeted at 3-year-olds.

“It’s about a 10-minute screening,” he said.

“The screening is designed to identify problems,” he added. “At that age if there is a problem, it’s much easier to correct and treat than later on.”

Inability to see clearly is just one of several vision conditions that are part of the screening. Doctors also look for problems with the eyes working together and focusing correctly. Any of the conditions may lead to learning problems when the child gets to school.

“Vision is more than seeing a 20/20 line,” Unruh said. “It’s coordinating the two eyes to work together, visual tracking, and things like that. That’s what the screening is designed to pick up as well.”

According to the See to Learn Web site, “Some serious conditions like amblyopic (lazy eye) and strabismus (turned eye) require care before age 5 to avoid permanent loss of vision.”

Unruh said they recommend that all 3-year-olds be screened.

Since there is no way to know if a child is one of the 20 percent with vision problems, the only way to be certain is through testing by a professional.

“A lot of parents don’t realize that there may be a vision problem at that age,” he said. “Usually kids don’t communicate that.”

Unruh said the program is open to all 3-year-olds, regardless of the family’s income or ability to pay.

If the screening shows a vision problem, “We either set up more testing or refer them to whatever source needs to take care of the problem,” Unruh said.

For more information or a referral to a participating optometrist, call the Eye Care Council at 1-800-960-EYES or visit www.seetolearn.com.

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