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Jackson: The importance of detecting early vision problems in children

Children seldom complain about vision problems. Rather, according to the Eyes on Learning Vision Coalition, “they believe everyone sees the world the way they do.” But the coalition notes that “80 percent of children’s learning is through their eyes. Thus, the detection and correction of unidentified vision impairments is a necessary component in a comprehensive strategy to improve reading proficiency.”

With an eye toward helping to alleviate the problem in our area, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) of Yavapai County approached some Lions this past spring about submitting a request for a $25,000 grant “to support improvements in early student literacy through the fourth grade by identifying student vision impairments” by means of screening. In response, Doug George and John Schmitt from the Prescott Noon club and Tom Kosel from the Prescott Sunrise club teamed up to take on the project and succeeded in obtaining the ACF grant.

Incidentally, George – who is spokesman for the trio – is no stranger to the program, as he volunteered a few years ago in Watertown, Conn., to work with Dan Uitti of the Watertown Lions club to do vision screening of pre-schoolers in their community. “We used the same Spot Vision Screener that we will use in our pilot program,” he said. “Through that program I got some experience in screening small children, which is helping me to set up the current pilot vision screening program. As an interesting aside, Lion Uitti is currently running the Lions Kid Sight USA website, which is assisting Lions all over the country in setting up vision screening programs. We used it extensively in our training program.” And “I actually got a chance to visit with Lion Dan at the Lions International Convention in Las Vegas this past June.”

George pointed out that there is currently a vision screening program in Yavapai County in a limited number of schools being administered by the Yavapai County Education Service Agency.

That program utilizes an advanced vision screener, also termed a photoscreener, he said.

“We took a survey of the elementary schools in Yavapai County that are not being screened by photoscreeners this year,” George noted, “and estimate that there are approximately 7,000 students in grades K-4 in 33 district, private and charter elementary schools. (16 public, nine charter and eight private elementary schools). We proposed to develop and set up a pilot vision screening program in the county for pre-K-4 school children using photoscreeners and to investigate various screening/sharing techniques. We selected 11 of the 33 schools in the pilot program with an estimated enrollment of 1,976 pre-K -4 students that represent diversity in location, school size and school type. Pre-K was added to the K-4 grades originally proposed because our investigation revealed the importance in detecting vision disorders as early as possible.”

Results from vision screening utilizing a photoscreener for ages 3-10 are significantly more reliable than the results from the eye charts.

Photoscreeners can identify the risk factors for Amblyopia (Lazy Eye), which are not easily detectable by eye charts for younger children. And photoscreeners offer the additional advantage that they do not require the continued cooperation of the child being screened because the test takes only a few seconds.

An investigation of photoscreeners “concluded that the best one available is the Welch Allyn Spot Vision Screener,” George reported, and “we purchased three of them with the funds from the grant. The balance of the grant funds will be used for program expenses, which are primarily training, fingerprint cards and program accessories.”

In laying the groundwork for the program, George explained that “we created a set of documents to present to schools we planned to visit and then began meeting with school officials. We have now met with 9 of the 11 schools on our list. Schools visited are: Mayer Elementary, Franklin Phonetic, American Heritage Academy (Cottonwood and Camp Verde campuses), Cottonwood, Trinity Christian, Skyview, Primavera and Chino Valley.”

The start date for vision screening? It’s “in sight” for later this month. Ever onward, I say!

Contact the columnist at editorial@prescottaz.com.

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