Every parent should be on the lookout for potential problems with her child’s health, and vision impairment is no exception. Marc Weinstein, who worked as the Optometric Director for various New York locations of Macy’s Vision Express, gives parents some guidelines to help them evaluate their child’s vision.
Although all pediatricians offer some type of vision testing, Weinstein refers to the recommendations of the American Optometric Association, which represents 39,000 professionals in the field of optometry in the United States. According to the Association, the first eye exam a child should have is by 6 months of age, which consists of a general evaluation that’s done to assess the overall health and alignment of the eyes.
Subsequently, the Association typically recommends a second exam at age 3, when the child is able to give some responses. The first full exam for a child will happen usually before first grade. If the child’s eyes are healthy, then he will need an eye exam every two years after that.
“At the end of the day, children’s performance in school is highly dependent on their vision,” Weinstein says. “If you notice that your child is having difficulty in school, or if they’re complaining that they’re rubbing their eyes a lot, or if they’re complaining that they’re having trouble seeing the board, it’s really important to take them in for a full eye exam.”
A full eye exam should also include a dilated exam, which is when the optometrist puts drops in the eye to dilate the pupil. This allows the doctor to look in the back of the eye and check for any possible conditions that could be causing a decrease in vision.
Weinstein stresses the necessity of the dilated exam.
“Even though people might say, ‘My kid is young and healthy,’ it’s a really important exam to have done on your child,” Weinstein explains. “It gives the doctor baseline measurements, so if anything does change in the future, they can reference previous exams and see what changes have taken place.”
For parents with children who have eyeglasses, Weinstein advises, “Make sure your kid really likes the eyeglasses. At the end of the day, no matter what we all do as professionals and as parents, if the child doesn’t like the eyeglasses, he’s not going to want to wear them. If he doesn’t wear them, then this defeats the purpose.”
Weinstein encourages parents to “really engage their child in the process of choosing the right pair of eyeglasses. Make sure they get something that they really want to wear. Going beyond that, make sure, obviously, that the eyeglasses fit well, that they’re not too loose or too tight, that they’re comfortable for the child.”
As Weinstein advises, an important component for children’s eyewear is that all eyeglasses should always have polycarbonate lenses.
“Polycarbonate is a type of lens. It’s shatter-resistant material,” Weinstein explains. “It includes scratching and ultraviolet protection built into the lens. You shouldn’t have to pay extra for that. It protects the child’s eye, and it’s also 30 percent lighter and thinner than standard glasses.”
If your children wear prescription eyewear, Weinstein recommends that he should also have a pair of prescription sunglasses.
“People might not realize this, but even at a very young age, exposure to the sun does put us at a higher risk in the future, for things like cataracts,” he warns. “So it’s very important, even at an early age, to wear protective eyewear for the sun.”
Weinstein is the CEO and founder of a company called 39Dol
Explaining his charitable work, Weinstein adds, “A lot of times, even when people have vision insurance, if the child loses or breaks the eyeglasses, they don’t have coverage for a second pair. Even if the child did get one pair, if there’s a problem, and children do frequently break or lose their eyeglasses, they need another pair and the parents can’t afford it. That’s where the kids fall through the cracks.”
“We reach out to schools all over the country, and we try to provide free eyewear for children whose families can’t afford it,” says Weinstein. “The company pays for the eyeglasses directly from its own profits.”
For more information about vision care for your child, visit the American Optometric Association’s website at www.aoa.org.
Allison Plitt is a freelance writer who lives in Queens with her husband and young daughter. She is a frequent contributor to New York Parenting.