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Children deserve the chance to succeed

As a young elementary student, Jaylan Lenoir of Columbus struggled with reading and making out shapes. He knew he was having trouble with his vision but he didn’t know how to articulate it. Luckily, he was part of a school program that provided comprehensive eye exams to its students. Dr. Stacie Moore discovered Jaylan had amblyopia (lazy eye) and astigmatism. Therapy and corrective lenses opened a whole new world for Jaylan who has excelled in academics and athletics. Today, he is majoring in Chemical Engineering at Mississippi State and considering a career in medicine.

Fortunately for Jaylan, his vision problem was detected early, during a critical time in his educational career – when he was learning numbers and letters and making sense of it all. But for many young Mississippians, a vision problem is not detected until much later.

Studies by the American Optometric Association show that nearly 25 percent of school-aged children have vision problems. When you consider that 80 percent of what a child learns in school is presented visually, the implications of undetected vision issues are tragic. The ramifications of poor vision go beyond the classroom and can prevent a child from fully participating in sports, creative, and social activities. 

In 2015, 88 percent of the children who failed the required third grade reading exam and took advantage of the no-cost eye exams offered by Mississippi’s family eye doctors had undetected vision problems. Although this is a step in the right direction, why should a child and his parents wait until he fails this key educational marker to discover that undiagnosed — but correctible — issues such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or double vision is all that stands between him and success?

For this reason, the Mississippi Optometric Association is supporting Mississippi House Bill No. 1322 and Senate Bill No. 2685. These bills recommend children 6 and under entering a public school for the first time to have a comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist prior to beginning school.

How does this affect existing screening programs that are already provided by many schools? It doesn’t.  However, these screenings are not the same as an eye exam. A comprehensive eye exam, using specialized equipment and conducted by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, is needed to fully evaluate a child’s vision and eye health. For example, it is very likely that a school screening would not have caught Jaylan’s condition. A student may pass a screening and still have lazy eye, astigmatism, or other vision issues.

You and I want our children — we want all Mississippi children — to have every opportunity to succeed. The key to that success is education. And one of the most important keys to a successful education is healthy vision.

Please join me in supporting House Bill No. 1322 and Senate Bill No. 2685. Contact your Legislator and let him or her know that you support better vision for better learning for Mississippi children.

Sarah Fratesi, O.D.

Lead Children’s Vision and InfantSee Coordinator

Public Health committee member

Mississippi Optometric Association