Vision Screens and Exams: What You Need to Know!

Vision Screens and Exams: What You Need to Know!


For many local families, school begins next week!  While you prepare to head back to school, you have probably made an appointment for your child’s annual physical, or well-child visit.  It is important to remember that your children’s eyes and vision should also be evaluated regularly. 

  • The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that infants have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age.  InfantSEE is a program that offers FREE eye exams to children ages 6-12 months.  Check out their website to find a local optometrist that participates.  I took my son to an InfantSEE examination when he was 9 months old and it was a great experience!
  • Children should have additional eye exams at age 3, and just before they enter the first grade — at about age 5 or 6. 
  • For school-aged children, the AOA recommends an eye exam every two years if no vision correction is required. Children who need eyeglasses or contact lenses should be examined annually, or as recommended by their optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Early eye examinations are crucial to make sure children have normal, healthy vision so they can perform better at school and play!  Children need the following basic skills related to good eyesight for learning:

  • Near vision
  • Distance vision
  • Binocular (two eyes) coordination
  • Eye movement skills
  • Focusing skills
  • Peripheral awareness
  • Hand-eye coordination

While school vision screenings are a helpful tool that can detect some vision problems, there are limitations to these screenings.  An in-school vision screen should not replace comprehensive eye exams at regular intervals as outlined above.  And as always, talk to your doctor or make an eye exam sooner if you have concerns! 

If a vision screening detects problems, or if you have concerns, you may be referred to an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, depending on the concerns you have.  Your sight depends on seeing the right eye doctor at the right time.  Ophthalmologists and optometrists each play an important role in providing eye care, but the levels of training and expertise can vary significantly for each type of provider:

  • An ophthalmologist — Eye M.D. — is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care.  As a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery.  An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.
  • Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes.  An optometrist is not a medical doctor, but rather receives a doctor of optometry (OD) degree.  They are licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases. 

If your eyes are healthy and don't require specialized medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for a routine eye exam is a matter of personal preference.  Optometrists and ophthalmologists both perform routine eye exams and both types of eye doctors are trained to detect, diagnose and manage eye diseases that require medical and non-medical treatment, and can refer you to the appropriate professional if other needs arise.  To read about what to expect at your child’s eye exam, check out this website.

For more information on children’s vision development, signs of problems, and ideas to support and improve vision development, check out the American Optometric Association’s website and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development’s website.

One last area I want to cover briefly today is vision therapy.  Vision therapy is another area of vision care that may benefit your child.  Vision therapy is a highly effective non-surgical treatment for many common visual problems such as lazy eye, crossed eyes, double vision, convergence insufficiency and some reading and learning disabilities.  Some optometrists, and even some ophthalmologists, are trained in vision therapy.  Sometimes these professionals are called developmental or behavioral optometrists or ophthalmologists.  While your child’s occupational therapist may be helping to address deficits in visual perception, eye-hand coordination, ocular motor skills, and visual motor integration, occupational therapists do not receive near the depth of training in vision nor are they trained in the use of lenses, prism and filters.  Seeing a professional trained in vision therapy can provide more options to treat vision problems.  For more information on vision therapy, check out this website.

Author: Krista Flack, MS OTR/L

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