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Oct 2008    (View past health issues)
 Study: Vision and learning

Uncorrected vision impairment (nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism) in preschoolers severely affects their learning ability, according to a study published in the February 2008 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology. The good news? After just six weeks of wearing glasses, the preschooler's cognitive test scores were comparable to those with good vision. These findings indicate early detection and correction of vision problems are crucial to learning.

The Sight & Hearing Association, which has screened preschoolers' vision and hearing for 49 years, has long stressed the importance of associating healthy early childhood vision with successful learning.

Early intervention may be the key.

In the study, researchers from the University of California-San Diego followed 70 3-5-year-olds from low-income backgrounds. The children were given comprehensive eye exams and rigorous development testing - using two standardized, widely used tests that are predictive of future learning ability. Thirty-five children had refractive errors at a level significant enough to warrant glasses; the other 35 without refractive errors became the control group.

The children who had vision problems were found to be significantly behind their peers, - with test scores comparable to kids affected by malnutrition, high blood concentration and low birth weight and prematurity. After six weeks of glasses wear, however, the children scored normal on the visual motor integration test and saw a slight improvement on the intelligence test.

The ramifications of these results are far reaching. "What it would suggest is that [children with undetected vision problems] are at risk because the tests used are highly predictive and correlate well with successful school learning," said study author Barbara Brody.

Last year, the Sight & Hearing Association screened more than 12,500 children in the 11-county metro area at preschools, day care centers, nursery schools, Head Start programs and charter schools. Of the 10,302 preschoolers screened, 13 percent were referred for vision and 16 percent for hearing. Eighteen percent of the 3,272 school-age children screened were referred for vision and 7 percent for hearing. More than 80 percent of the children SHA screens come from economically disadvantaged homes. SHA grants uninsured or under-insured low-income children vouchers for a free eye exam and glasses through its Vision Voucher Project for Kids. Last year, SHA issued 800 vision vouchers.

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