What was once an option for many parents has now become an Illinois law. On January 1, 2008 Illinois joined the other approximately 31 states in declaring that all children entering kindergarten or enrolling in an Illinois school for the first time must have a comprehensive eye health exam. Eye exams in elementary age school children can help prevent lifelong vision loss.
Vision problems affect one in 20 preschoolers. Some of the more significant eye problems are Amblyopia (lazy eye), Strabismus (crossed eyes), Myopia (nearsightedness), Hyperopia (farsightedness),and Retinopathy of Prematurity, where blood vessels of the eye change, occurring in some premature infants. Color blindness and astigmatism also cause vision impairment.
A typical children’s eye exam can present special challenges for the doctor due to the fact that the responses of the patients can not always be relied upon. Fortunately testing for and determining a spectacle prescription for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism can be done with an objective test that does not require input from the patient. Besides checking for the possible need for correction the doctor will be checking for eye movement ability, proper eye alignment, proper reaction of the eye to light levels (atypical pupil responses are very often one of the first symptoms of many neurological disorders). Also, tests are done to determine if color vision is normal as well as to determine if the eyes aim, move and focus together to work as a team (depth perception). The ability of the eye to properly focus at different distances is also determined along with the ability of the eyes to track objects. The examination of the health of the physical structures of the eye can tell the doctor many things about the child’s general health as well. Many neurological conditions are first diagnosed through changes in the appearance of the optic nerve in the back of the eye.
The Illinois law mandating the preschool vision screening is stated in Public Act 095-0671, Section 5, amendment 27-8.1, health examinations and immunizations. The law states that all children in Illinois must have a health examination, a tuberculosis skin test, an eye exam, a dental examination and a hearing screening within one year prior to entering a nursery school, kindergarten or first grade. Each child must present proof of having been examined in accordance with this section. The document wording continues to include other grade levels and details per each exam or screening. To view Public Act 095-0671 in its entirety, visit the Illinois General Assembly website at http://www.ilga.gov/ .