Vision tips for teachers
By Michele Faehnle
As a teacher, you can be the best screener for vision problems in children.
I recently received an email from a teacher: “I noticed this week that a student has been squinting A LOT. He can’t see from the 3rd row back in my room — I asked him if he had glasses and he said he didn’t, so I offered to move him, but is there a way to get a quick assessment of his vision to see if we should reach out to his parents?”
Even though I had screened this student for vision just 8 months prior, I re-screened him and found he needed to be seen by an ophthalmologist. Sure enough, this teacher was correct. The student needed glasses.
As a teacher, you can be the best screener for vision problems in children. One in four children has vision problems which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent vision loss and learning difficulties.
I spoke with Dr. Carrie Lembach, D.O., an opthomologist (and Catholic-school mom) with some questions teachers might have about students with vision difficulties.
What things might I notice that indicate a student is having difficulty with vision?
Actually, this is not an easy question!! Little children especially will not be able to tell you their vision is bad because they don’t understand. This is why vision screening is so important. However, as a teacher, you are constantly observing students in the classroom and see things like irritated eyes, squinting, and frequent blinking. You also may notice a child had problems with eye-hand coordination, eyes not working together, visible eye movement problems, and visual processing.
In older kids you may notice that they sit too close to the TV or bring books right up to their face when they read. They may also squint when trying to look at the chalkboard. Some kids will even develop headaches daily if straining to see.
If I am concerned about a student’s vision, what should I do?
If you think your student is having difficulty, ask the school nurse to do a vision screening. If the student fails a school screening or you are just concerned about vision, definitely send them to see their pediatrician or an ophthalmologist. You can never intervene too early … if there is any question, send them for an exam. Students should be receiving regular eye exams every 1-2 years, but many of them do not see an eye doctor.
I have students who refuse to wear their glasses. How does that impact their vision long-term? How can I encourage them to wear their glasses?
This can be such a frustrating problem! Long-term impact depends on the reason the student is wearing the glasses (which unfortunately you don’t always know). For example, if they are wearing glasses simply because they are nearsighted and need them to read the board, it won’t hurt their eyes to not wear them … but it may hurt their grades because they can’t see the writing on the board.
However, some kids are wearing the glasses for eyes crossing (strabismus) or they may even have a bifocal in them. It is very important that these students wear their glasses! A younger student who has these problems and does not wear their glasses can develop amblyopia (lazy eye). If this condition is not treated, it can lead to permanent blindness if the glasses are not worn.
The attitude of “having to wear your glasses” must start at home. If the parents don’t enforce the importance of wearing glasses to the student, then it is really hard to convince a student to wear them at school. However the teachers can get involved to add extra encouragement to help students wear the glasses. Some parents use a sticker chart with little rewards for wearing glasses. For little children, a strap works to make sure the glasses stay on and don’t break.
I have a student who is color blind. How does that impact classroom learning?
Color blindness (color vision deficiency, or CVD) affects 1 in 12 boys and 1 in 200 girls. Many students are unaware they are color blind until they fail the screening test in school. There are several different kinds of color blindness, and also a range of syndromes that can affect kids along with color blindness. The effects of color vision deficiency can be mild, moderate or severe. Many students who are color blind learn to adapt. They will need some extra help when it comes to learning the colors — they just see them differently! They may need help from another child when it comes to activities that involve sorting by color, and so on. If directions only include a color you need to add another descriptor to help them understand.
Color-deficient students tend to have more problems in low lighting conditions. With so much technology being used in the classroom, be sure to check out websites and computer-based learning programs to make sure the students can get all the relevant information. You also may need to adjust the contrast on your screen to help them to see.
We use a lot of technology in the classroom. Should I be concerned with the extra screen time the students are exposed to in school?
Screen time is definitely a concern. We don’t really know the extent to what will happen with our eyesight with all the screen time children are exposed to during their day. Kids should take frequent breaks and teachers should make sure that the time spent on screens is engaging and purposeful. The more time reading or spent on a computer may increase the chance of nearsightedness. There is also some thought that the added blue light from a computer screen is bad for your eyes. I personally feel technology is good when used responsibly and screen time is limited.
Any final tips for teachers and their own vision care?
As we age, common causes of blindness (glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration) increase. Early detection and treatment can reduce and prevent vision loss. Be sure to see your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam as recommended (see recommended frequency information or take the adult vision risk assessment). You should also protect your eyes from damaging UV rays and try to reduce eyestrain for computers or other digital devices.
Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN, is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Columbus, Ohio and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.
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