For the last thirty years our area of Derbyshire has had a very good system for checking the eyesight of local young children at around three and a half to four years of age. The only drawback to this is that, of course, not every parent would take up the invitation. Apparently only about 35 to 40 percent of children are currently being seen.
Now things are changing to a system more akin to that which, I imagine, most of my readers remember from their own schooldays. Starting in April next year every child in their Reception year at Infant school will be screened, at school, by a trained screener who will refer any doubtful cases for further examination by either their local Optometrist or, if necessary, direct to the Eye Clinic at the hospital.
The great advantage of this is that very nearly every child will be seen by a trained professional, and not just those whose parents were able to take up the invitation previously. The drawback is that, as the children will be being screened at a greater age than currently, it delays the detection of poorly developing eyesight by about a year. This could well be significant, albeit in a small number of cases. A child’s visual development is generally considered to have stopped by the age of seven – which means that if the eyes aren’t seeing properly by that time then it is very unlikely that they will ever reach the levels that they otherwise might. Having a first check on a child’s eyesight at three and a half meant that there was another three and a half years to make an improvement, whether by wearing appropriate glasses or by exercises or patching or a combination of all three. Now that time could be reduced, at the very worst, to a little over one year.
Consequently we will be making great efforts to make sure that all our patient’s children are offered a thorough sight test, here in the practice in Littleover, as early as their parents want it and we shall be advising them to treat the check at school as a bonus and a kind of backup. Personally I think that three and a half strikes about the right balance between getting good co-operation from the child and the amount of time available for taking corrective action if necessary. If a child is not seeing well in their first year in school it can lead not only to poor learning but also to poorer behaviour in class.
These changes take place in April, meanwhile keep bringing in your old spectacles for Vision Aid Overseas, the box is right next to the Scout Post one!