How to prepare for an eye exam

Eye care for your child

How to prepare for an eye exam

An estimated 80 percent of classroom education is presented visually, so it’s no surprise that vision is imperative to your child’s academic success. Most pediatricians perform a visual acuity test as part of a standard annual check-up. These tests measure a child’s ability to identify letters or pictures on a chart at varying distances. If a child fails the vision acuity test, a pediatrician will generally refer the child to an optometrist.


There are three types of practitioners that specialize in eye care. An optician is a trained professional who fills prescriptions for, and measures glasses and contact lenses to ensure a proper fit. An ophthalmologist is a physician trained in eye care who is medically licensed to perform surgery. Most children who are suspected of having limited vision are treated by an optometrist. An optometrist is a doctor of optometry. Best known for caring for patients with poor vision, optometrists can also treat eye conditions such as conjunctivitis or muscle dysfunction. They prescribe glasses and diagnose and treat pathology.


“Vision begins to mature at about 12-16 months of age,” explains Saul Polenberg, O.D., optometrist located in Redhook. “After that, it’s a vision influx—vision develops all along until around the age of ten. If a patient is treated by first or second grade, then he or she has the best chance of reaching his or her full potential,” While the American Optometric Association recommends that all children have an eye examination by the age of three, Polenberg estimated that most near-sighted or myopic children are diagnosed between third and fifth grade. Many children see an optometrist after failing a visual acuity test at the pediatricians office, but some parents opt to bring their children in for a routine visit, especially if there is a family history of poor eyesight. Other parents schedule an appointment because they notice their child having difficulty seeing clearly, but that is usually the exception to the rule.


“Because parents are with their children all the time, they tend to miss some of the subtleties that would indicate their child is having vision problems,” says Linda Resto, O.D., an optometrist practicing in Newburgh. “They’ll chalk up a child’s clumsiness to their personality and it won’t even cross their mind that it might have to do with poor vision.”

READ MORE: Busting eye health myths


Fortunately, according to Resto, it’s rare that the visual acuity test performed by a pediatrician doesn't catch potential eyesight problems. At the optometrist’s office, the tests are taken a step further to determine each patient’s situation. This can pose a challenge for some children, especially for those with limited attention spans.


“The first tests I do are always games to relax the child, as children can be apprehensive about the test or about the fact that they might need glasses. I look for fun ways to keep the child occupied and interested,” says Resto.


Many optometrists have automated machines that can check the status of vision. Optometrists also check binocularity (that both eyes focus together), color vision, the integrity of the eye muscles and scan for tumors that could be causing the eye to turn. Once the patient is diagnosed, he or she is referred to an optician if glasses are required or to an ophthalmologist if corrective surgery is needed.


Being able to see the world clearly is one of the greatest gifts a person can have. With the technology available today, many vision problems can be corrected or greatly improved whether with lenses or with corrective surgery. Keeping a sharp eye out for potential vision difficulties and routine vision screenings are essential to helping your child perform well in school and making sure he or she can soak in every nuance of the world around him.


Courtney Bonfante is a writer living in New Windsor with her family.