“The Pirate Poser” and “Head Tilter”: Specsavers reveals the tell-tale signs kids are masking poor eyesight that parents should look out for
Date published: 14 November 2023
Experts at Specsavers recommend children have their first eye test at three and a half years old
More than one in four (26%) parents in the region worry that their child is covering up issues with their eyesight.
This comes as new findings from Specsavers reveal the common behaviours most reported by north west parents with children aged six to 15 that suggest that they might be having sight issues. These include: their child sitting too close to the TV (60%), frequent complaints of headaches (52%), always sitting at the front of their class (36%) and delaying bedtime to avoid reading (20%).
However, over a third (33%) of parents say they have never considered their child might need glasses, and over one in five (19%) confessed they have never taken their child to the opticians.
The study shows that this might be because more than one in four (26%) parents prioritise other health appointments for their children over eye health checks. With doctors' appointments (64%), the dentist (48%) and vaccinations (36%) taking priority.
Admittedly, 83% of those surveyed wish they’d spotted the tell-tale signs earlier.
This is not a new phenomenon. Three years ago, the issue was brought to media’s attention by former singer and presenter, Rochelle Humes, who candidly shared her experience about her daughter’s eyesight issues. On social media, she explained how her seven-year-old had been complaining about her eyes, but she admitted to overlooking this, thinking her daughter was stalling before bedtime.
In a statement, she said: “Alaia has been complaining about her eyes and that she wants to sit at the front of the class with her friends so she can see better, she also says that her eyes are blurry every time it's time to go to bed.
“I honestly have been dismissing it, I thought she was stalling going to bed and wanted to sit at the front of class so she could gossip with her best friends. Turns out I was wrong. She needs glasses... How do I feel? AWFUL!”
The study identified that the average age at which a parent first takes their child to the optician is six years old, with over half (57%) going for a routine check-up and nearly a quarter (21%) if they have a family history of eyesight issues. Meanwhile, nearly one in seven parents (14%) admit to only going if their child’s teacher advised them to.
This is despite experts at Specsavers recommending children have their first eye test at three and a half years old. All children under 16, as well as those under 19 in full- time education, are entitled to an NHS funded eye test.
Among the reasons for not booking an appointment sooner, half of parents said they didn’t think their child had any issues with their vision, while 17% assumed that they were conducted at school.
Specsavers Clinical Services Director Giles Edmonds says: "A lot of parents assume that because their child doesn't display any signs of a vision problem, there's no need to have their eyes tested.
"However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Ensuring your child has regular eye examinations from an early age is incredibly important for several reasons. Given more than 80 per cent of our learning, cognitive and social abilities are facilitated through our sight, it's extremely important to your child's overall development.
“Poor eyesight can cause learning and behavioural problems. Conditions such as squinting and amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treated more effectively if they are picked up earlier, which could make a huge difference to your child. Lastly, an eye test doesn’t just check vision. It can also detect other underlying health conditions.”
Dr Nigel Best outlines the top tell-tale signs of potential vision problems to look out for in children:
The Eye Rub Maestro: Eye rubbing is a sign of tired eyes at any age. If you notice your child rubbing their eyes while focusing on an object, it could indicate eye strain, which could be due to an uncorrected vision problem.
The Reading Rebel: If your child is reading below their expected level this could be a sign of several vision problems. Children who have issues with their eyesight may also repeat the same line twice, lose their place or use a finger to guide their eyes. Holding books or devices at a distance can support long-term eye health – keeping these items at a length of their knuckle to their elbow is a good guide, as holding them too close can be problematic.
The Eye Strain Star: Sometimes there are physical signs such as straining eyes, closing one eye or holding objects too close or too far away. If kids are straining to see the board at school, they may also get frustrated which can mean they are disruptive in lessons. All these things can indicate problems with vision.
The Headache Hero: Your child might experience more headaches, especially when reading. When you look at objects or screens at close range, the muscles in and around your eyes need to work harder to focus. Over time, these muscles can get sore and tired. Similarly, squinting for a long period may tire the muscles around your eyes, which can lead to headaches.
The Head Tilter: If your child has perfected the art of tilting their head to read a book, it's a sign that they might be hiding issues with their eyesight.
Close Encounter Enthusiast: If your child makes a habit of sitting too close to the TV, this could be a sign that they are struggling to see the details. Sitting too close to the screen could in turn cause additional eye strain.
The Pirate Poser: If your little one is often seen closing one eye when completing tasks, they may be doing this to favour their stronger eye and could highlight an uncorrected vision problem.
The Teacher’s Pet: Sitting at the front of each class to get a good view of the board could be a sign that your child is struggling with their vision.
All children under 16, as well as those under 19 in full- time education, are entitled to an NHS funded eye test.
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