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Farsighted preschoolers fall behind

A recent study showed that moderately farsighted preschoolers and kindergarteners lag behind on their reading skills, creating both concern and controversy about whether or not they should be prescribed eyeglasses.

Someone who is farsighted can see distant objects clearly but is unable to bring close objects – such as words on a page – into proper focus. The medical term for the condition is “hyperopia.”

According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS), hyperopia early in life is normal, and rarely does it mean that a child needs glasses. Kids who are excessively farsighted may develop crossed eyes, blurred vision or discomfort, and for them, glasses are in order, according to AAPOS.

At Ohio State University, a research team evaluated the vision and early reading skills of nearly 500 4- and 5-year-olds, none of whom wore glasses but about half of whom were moderately farsighted.

All of the children were given the Test of Preschool Early Literacy, and those with worse near vision or decreased depth perception achieved the lowest scores. The scores were poor enough to put them at risk for future reading problems, researchers said.

“This study suggests that an untreated vision problem in preschool, in this case one that makes it harder for children to see things up close, can create literacy deficits that affect grade school readiness,” said Dr. Maryann Redford, a spokesperson for the National Eye Institute.

Marjean Taylor Kulp, professor of optometry and leader of the study, said there is a lot of disagreement among professionals about how to handle farsightedness in preschoolers. She said some are opposed to prescribing glasses because they think the children have the ability to overcome their farsightedness.

“But some doctors think it may be better to prescribe glasses because it could help improve vision or educational skills,” Kulp said.

Others have suggested providing literacy testing to children who are farsighted.

“Preschool children with moderate hyperopia and decreased near vision may benefit from referral for assessment of early literacy skills,” said Elise Ciner, O.D., study co-investigator. “Educational interventions for children with early deficits can lead to greater educational achievement in later years.”

The study results underscore the importance of vision screening in early childhood. As Kulp pointed out, children who are moderately farsighted usually do not complain of any vision problems because they have no reference for comparison.

“Experiences in early childhood classrooms are often young children’s first exposure to key early literacy building blocks,” the study authors wrote, noting that when they enter kindergarten and first grade, children are expected to have some vocabulary, phonics and reading skills. “Educational achievement requirements and visual demands for preschoolers are rapidly increasing in today’s society.”

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