Ready for school: Oh say, can you see?

School and vision — the two are practically synonymous. School is for learning, and at least 80 percent of learning is mediated by vision. All the skills and abilities that children develop during the preschool years come into play during the school years. And there is not a more demanding test of visual abilities than school.
Unfortunately, four out of 10 grade-school children in the United States are visually handicapped for adequate school achievement. Visual handicaps include not only seeing a blur when looking at a blackboard, but poor eye muscle coordination, strabismus (crossed-eyes), lazy eye, focusing insufficiency, perceptual problems, and developmental lags.
Let’s take a look at a few of the visual skills children need in school:
— Distance vision: the ability to see things at least 20 feet away with sharpness and very little effort.
— Near vision: the ability to see things 14 to 16 inches away (reading distance) clearly with both eyes.
— Accommodation: the ability of the eyes to adjust for near-point tasks easily (with no effort). This process must be done with comfort and must be maintained for long periods of time.
— Focusing flexibility: the ability to alternate between distance and near vision quickly and effortlessly.
— Binocular coordination: the ability of both eyes to work together as a team. Tiring, double vision, poor reading ability, and headache are a few signs of inadequate binocular coordination.
School nurses conduct vision “screenings,” which are cursory acuity tests of sharpness of vision at 20 feet. So, how much work does a student do at 20 feet, compared to the amount of reading up close? Right, not much! Sure, seeing the “blackboard” is important but children spend a greater percentage of their time looking at books (and now computer screens), and this is the vision that needs to be clear and comfortable.
So, when making plans for your child’s back-to-school necessities, remember that their eyes are leading the charge to learning.
Dr. Jeffrey Anshel is the optometrist at Poinsettia Vision Center in Poinsettia Village (Ralph’s Center) in Carlsbad. He can be reached at (760) 931-1390.

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