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Are School Vision Screenings Enough?

Vision screening programs were designed to help identify children who have eye or vision problems that could impair their ability to develop and learn normally. Visual clues are key to how children learn and function.  Vision problems that go uncorrected can affect all aspects of a child’s growth including their emotional, neurological, cognitive and physical development. Studies have found that visual factors are better predictors of academic success than race or socioeconomic status.

The National Institutes of Health found that professional vision screenings catch only 37% of children with poor vision. This is especially troubling because the most recent National Eye Institute (NEI) prevalence study revealed that 4% of preschoolers have significant nearsightedness, 21% have significant farsightedness, 10% have significant astigmatism, and 3% have significant strabismus (eye turning in or out), as assessed through eye examination.  Vision screenings will miss the majority of children with strabismus, astigmatism and most of those with farsightedness.  Other facts to consider:

  • Many screening facilities lack the equipment and knowledgeable staff, which are essential to screen young children.  Traditional screening methods by non-eyecare professionals are extremely difficult for children less than 4 years of age.
  • Most vision screenings test for visual acuity only.  Use of a vision chart alone will identify only 5% of the vision problems in children according to the American Foundation for Vision Awareness.  A child may be able to see letters 20 feet away but that does not demonstrate whether his/her eyes are able to work together to read materials 12 inches away, or if there is an eye health problem or vision perception problem.
  • Amblyopia, poor eyesight in one eye, sometimes known as “lazy eye, is often missed if the eyes appear aligned.
  • A vision screening can give a parent a false sense of security.  When a child reports that he is seeing 20/20, parents often assume that no further testing is needed and fail to ever take the child for a comprehensive eye examination.
  • Fewer than 50% of the children identified as needing professional eye and vision care ever receives that care, and of those who do, the average time between the screening and the examination is 18 months.

Vision screenings are an important service provided by most schools and without question provide benefits.  There are many children however, who simply need their mild farsightedness or nearsightedness corrected but are overlooked because of never having had a comprehensive vision exam.  Unfortunately, these children are many times labeled learning challenged, learning disabled, ADHD, or ADD when they simply have a focusing problem from computer vision syndrome or from being on their cell phone or IPAD too much.

Screenings should be recognized as limited in truly assessing a child’s ability to function in the classroom.  They should be considered a triage for the timing of the full eye exam which should be performed yearly starting with Kindergarten.

Please contact Cockrell Eyecare Center with questions regarding the difference between an eye health and vision exam and a vision screening.  If your child has a vision screening this fall it would be our pleasure to review the results with you. We can be reached in Stillwater at 405-372-1715.  We also invite you to visit our website at  and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!