Does Your Child Need Special Classes or Just a Pair of Glasses?
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sandra Peterson, RN, CSN
In a perfect world the title above might seem absurd or appear to be a joke. However, the world isn’t perfect and the question posed in the title should be answered before proceeding with anyone’s suggestion that your child might need to be evaluated for special education classes.
Unfortunately, there are far too many black students that have been mistakenly placed in special education programs because of an inability to achieve academic success in school.
Many have been labeled as having a behavior disorder for acting out, when they really only needed a pair of glasses so that they could see their work, learn it, and then pay attention to it.
There is a disproportionate representation of minorities in special education, particularly black males. Black students are twice as likely as whites to be referred by their teachers for a special education evaluation, according to the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services report on Excellence in Special Education.
Poor vision greatly interferes with a child’s ability to learn.
It is generally believed that 75 to 80 percent of a child’s learned information is taken in by what is seen.  According to the National Eye Institute’s Vision in Preschoolers Study, an estimated 15-20% percent of preschoolers had significant vision problems. It is also reported that 40-67% of the children referred to an eye care professional after a vision screening identified problems did not receive any further services.

Behavioral problems and vision difficulties can also have an extremely negative impact on a student’s education. Imagine trying to pay attention in a class for six or more hours, yet you can’t see the work on the board or even in the book. Imagine further that you don’t even know what seeing the work clearly looks like because you never have!
Often disruptive behaviors can surface due to boredom.
The student gets in trouble repeatedly, and that becomes a normal school day, instead of learning.  This can often lead to the suggestion of referral for a Special Education Evaluation.  It is not uncommon for a child with an undiagnosed or uncorrected vision problem to display an inability to pay attention or follow instructions that are written.  The USA National Institute of Health National Eye Institute indicates that 1 in 4 school aged child has a need for vision correction or therapy.

You need to know your child’s vision status before any problems arise, if possible. It is a part of the child’s overall health and wellbeing. The American Optometric Association recommends a schedule of complete eye exams beginning at six months of age, again at three and then five years of age.  Eye exams are needed annually for children who wear or need to wear glasses, and every two years for children with no identified vision problems.

If your child displays any of the following symptoms or behaviors, you can begin with a vision screening offered for free by most school districts and local health departments, or you may want to take them to an eye doctor. Keep in mind that a vision screening will not identify all potential vision problems, but it can be a starting point.
•    Dislike or avoidance of reading
•    Short attention span
•    Poor coordination when throwing or catching a ball, trouble copying from a whiteboard or with tying their shoes
•    Sitting too close to the TV or holding a book very close to their eyes
•    Excessive blinking or rubbing of the eyes
•    Decreasing and/or poor performance in school
Finally, remember that your child does not have the ability to understand or adequately describe vision problems. Don’t leave your children’s health or education up to them or anyone else.   Make sure your children have had a complete eye examination.  If it turns out that your child needs glasses and/or also needs to receive special education services, you will at least have answered the question and done your very best for your child.

Vision Screening -
Urban Legends
1. If my child is complaining about vision problems and passes the vision screening test, I shouldn’t worry. This is not true.  The vision screening is not designed to catch every possible vision problem.  If your child is complaining about vision problems, they need to have a full exam done.
2. Once my child passes a vision screen, there is no need to have another one. Vision screenings, even if previously normal, are to be done every couple of years to ensure there is no change.  Vision problems can worsen or develop at any time.
3. Vision screenings are long and painful tests. Vision screenings are painless and tailored to your child’s educational level and ability.  They are usually completed in less than 5 minutes.
4. If my child is found to need glasses, they are only for reading. Each prescription for glasses is different.  Some glasses may need to be worn consistently, while others may only need to be worn at specified times like reading.  Have a clear understanding of the prescription when you receive it.  Be sure to follow the direction of the optometrist or ophthalmologist that prescribed the glasses so they are being used correctly.
5. I am uninsured and can’t afford a vision screening. Most school systems and health departments will offer vision screenings free of charge.  Contact your local Board of Health Clinic for more information.
Sandra Peterson is the former facilitator of The Vision and Hearing Conservation Program for the Chicago Public Schools. 
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