CHARLOTTETOWN -- Dr. Jayne Toombs knows from professional experience that most children don’t have their first eye exam until some time after they start school.
“The general recommendation, we really like to see kids by age three,” said Toombs, a practicing optometrist and the president of the Prince Edward Island Association of Optometrists.
This year the P.E.I. Provincial Government acted on the association’s lobby and included an eye care program for kindergarten-aged children, Eye See Eye Learn, in its 2014 provincial budget on Tuesday.
The program takes affect in the fall and will, for the first year, also be available to current kindergarten students who will then be in Grade 1.
Government and the optometrist association will cover the cost of the eye exam for eligible kindergarten children.
Private health insurance, Toombs said, will still apply for families who have it, but kindergarten children in families that don’t have the coverage will get a free eye exam through Eye See Eye Learn. Private sponsor, Vision Tech will supply free lenses and Viva will provide frames free of charge.
“Virtually, for the parents, with or without insurance, the glasses and the eye exam are free,” Toombs said.
“Our real job is going to be to get the information to the parents,” Toombs said in voicing the association’s goal of making vision care available to children who need it.
“They estimate that 80 per cent of what a child learns at those lower grade levels is through vision,” she said in referencing vision studies. She added that an estimated one in four school aged children have vision problems. Currently, only about 14 per cent of children under age six receive professional eye care.
Alignment issues and eyes not coordinating, she said, are often correctable problems, but children who don’t get help could encounter reading and concentration problems. Amblyopia, a condition where an individual has one good eye and one bad eye, Toombs said, might not initially affect ones vision, but if not caught in time, the problem could become permanent and the child will develop a lazy eye.
An Eye See Eye Learn fact sheet indicated that amblyopia is responsible for vision loss in more people under the age of 45 than all other ocular diseases and trauma combined.