Erin Baric was more surprised than anyone when her son Jordan was prescribed glasses. Baric, a Mississauga, Ontario-based teacher, had thought nothing of her son’s occasional comments about having trouble seeing or his decision to sit in front of the blackboard at school.
“My husband and I have perfect vision so I didn’t think about it,” explains Baric. But when a doctor suggested Jordan, then in Grade 3, get an eye exam, she complied. The test showed Jordan, now 12, was nearsighted and needed corrective lenses. “When he put on his glasses for the first time, he said: ‘Oh, this is how you’re supposed to see!’” says Baric. “I felt quite emotional about it.”
Often, there are few signs of vision problems in young children, says Dr. Brenda Li, a Toronto-based optometrist. “We ask parents to look out for eye rubbing, squinting, wandering eyes, frequent headaches and a short attention span,” when performing tasks such as reading.
Other indications of a vision issue are falling behind in school, being accident-prone, experiencing nausea after reading and seeming uncoordinated while performing sports.
Li says regular eye exams at six months, three years and on an annual basis when kids enter school are critical in discovering vision issues, such as near and far-sightedness, lazy eye (a loss in the ability to see details that may cause the eye to turn inward or outward) and strabismus in which the eyes line up improperly. Covered under most provincial health plans until age 19, the eye exams can be performed on kids who don’t know their ABCs, says Li.
But although routine screening can catch problems and prevent learning delays, not every child is keen to wear glasses. That’s because they fear being singled out at school, teased or considered nerdy.
When Cathy Duke’s son James, 10, was diagnosed with farsightedness after complaining of frequent headaches and seeing spots, he balked at wearing glasses. “He was at first worried about the stigma,” says Duke. But after she bought him a pair of beautiful designer glasses, he slowly got used to the idea. “He loves them,” she says.
For Baric’s son Jordan who hated wearing glasses, contact lenses were the answer. He was fitted for them in Grade 5. Li says contacts are not unusual in the preteen set. “I’ve fitted contact lenses for children as young as eight or nine years old, mainly for sports when sports goggles were not available to them.” She says wearing disposable lenses is fine as long as a child shows they’re responsible and parents are available to monitor and guide them in their wearing schedule. Contact lenses need to be cleaned thoroughly, disinfected and not worn for extended periods, such as overnight, to allow the eyes to receive adequate oxygen.
Check whether vision care is included under your and/or your spouse’s workplace health and benefits plan. Depending on the cost of your child’s glasses or contacts, you may be covered for the entire amount, either through your plan alone, or by co-ordinating with your spouse’s plan. (Find out more about co-ordinating healthcare plans)
As for the long-term, Jordan hopes to one day undergo laser surgery to correct his vision; a procedure Li says is recommended only at age 21 when vision tends to stabilize.