After being an optometrist for almost fourteen years, I’ve examined hundreds of children who needed glasses, and I’ve seen many different reactions from children and parents alike. I also was a child who wore glasses. From my experience, I’ll share when to worry, when to let things slide, when to think about contacts, and maybe how to save yourself a little money along the way. It’s easy to go to the doctor and be diagnosed with less than perfect vision, but if your child needs glasses, what do you do next?
Making an Appointment
The American Optometric Association recommends that all children should have a vision exam within the first year of life and then again before school starts. Is this overkill? Maybe, but in my home state of Kentucky, a law was passed about a decade ago requiring all children to have an eye exam by a doctor before starting school. From the data collected, 25% of children examined have some sort of a vision problem that needs intervention. Not all were glasses. Some were perceptual or visual skills that needed help before learning to read. One out of four is a pretty significant number in my opinion.
Obviously if you notice problems like an eye that turns in our out, abnormally red eyes, if your child hates to have one eye covered, or has a strange looking pupil, you need to see an eye doctor. All kids sit close to the TV, so that isn’t necessarily a red flag. If your child is under 12 months of age, look for a doctor in the US who participates in a program called Infantsee. If you schedule an exam with a participating doctor, the first exam is free of charge for all kids under one. A six month old isn’t going to read the eye chart, but the doctor can tell if there is anything grossly wrong that needs treatment.
Older children can have an exam at any time. If you have vision insurance, you’d want to find a doctor who accepts your plan. Call first to make sure they see children, and confirm that they take your insurance. You don’t want to show up on the day of the appointment to find they don’t accept it.
If you don’t have insurance, call around to get a feel for each office or ask a friend. Websites like Yelp can also be helpful. You want this to be a positive experience, so if the doctor is a gruff, ex-military officer who sees few kids, it might not be the best fit. Ask the person who answers the phone if they do young child exams. You can tell right away if they are used to children or if that is a rarity. Children don’t need to see an ophthalmologist unless they require some sort of surgery. Getting a basic eye exam at an ophthalmology office would be like doing your routine physical with a cardiologist. You don’t need a specialist, and it will end up costing more.
Make sure to let you child know that an eye exam is painless. The worst thing optometrists do is use bright lights and possibly eye drops. If your child is really averse to drops, tell the doctor. I would much rather the first visit be positive than do every test in the book. Healthy children usually can get by without eye drops unless there is some sort of a problem.
If your child does need glasses, keep a positive attitude. This is an example of one of the many negative responses I’ve heard from parents,
“Does Johnny have to wear glasses? I just hate my glasses and have to wear my contacts because I JUST CAN’T wear glasses!”
Do you think Johnny is going to want to wear his glasses now? In the whole scheme of things, wearing glasses is a small issue when you consider all the possible things that could be wrong. Don’t make it a negative, and your child will be less likely to hate his glasses.
If your child needs glasses, you have several options. In my experience parents either choose to buy a nicer pair, maybe a memory metal that flexes and bends, with a good warranty, or they choose to buy the cheapest pair they can find because they expect their kids will break them. If they break, they just buy a new pair. Either way, it is rare to find a child under 12 that can go an entire year without needing some sort of repair or replacement if they are wearing their glasses regularly.
You don’t have to buy all kinds of special coatings for kid’s lenses. In the US, most lenses for children under 18 are polycarbonate, the thinner, lighter, more impact resistant material. Polycarbonate also has built in UV protection. All lenses come with a factory scratch coat, and since the prescription will likely change in a year, I don’t think paying for extra scratch treatments is worth it. Any lens can scratch, regardless of the treatments. The exception in lens options would be if your child has a really high prescription, usually over 3 units of correction. Then you might consider a higher index material. No one should have to wear Coke bottles with all the options available in today’s market.
If you are a loyal customer, an office is much more likely to work with you if your child needs an emergency repair or loaner frame. If you spend two hours looking, asking for your measurements, and writing down all the numbers to order online, that is your choice for sure, but don’t come back looking for favors if it doesn’t turn out like you expect.
What about Contacts?
Contacts can change a kid’s whole perspective and self esteem. I don’t have a specific age requirement for contacts, but kids need to be responsible enough to take care of their lenses. It almost never works if the parent wants it more than the child. Also, I’ve seen kids who were ready, but the parent had a strict age limit in mind. Junior high is one of the hardest ages as far as fitting in and trying to find your place in the whole hierarchy of adolescents. Contacts can be very affordable. Don’t let some pre-conceived notion stop you from allowing your child to try them.
My Kid Won’t Wear His/Her Glasses
I probably hear this once a day. My advice: Choose your battles. If your child is very farsighted or has a lot of astigmatism, school and reading will be harder if they don’t wear their glasses. If they have an amblyopic or lazy eye, it is likely to get worse without correction. Otherwise, it really isn’t that big of a deal. I was always nearsighted. I got glasses in 5th grade, wore them to school once, got made fun of, and never wore them to school again. I got contacts in 8th grade, and it was great, but I did fine in school , even without my glasses. Nearsighted kids can see to read, and that’s what is important. You learn to sit closer or listen well. I’m sure some might disagree with me, but I wouldn’t make it an argument every day. Older kids usually realize they need their glasses when they start getting headaches or won’t pass their vision test at the DMV when they start to think about a driver’s license.
If 25% of children need some sort of vision correction, odds are you might be seeing the optometrist at some point. It can be a very positive experience if you know what to expect and what to do if your child needs glasses.
Did you wear glasses as a kid? Do you have a scary optometrist story?
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