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Get Your Child's Eyes Checked Before School Starts, Free Programs Available

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Whether you're looking through the lens of 6-year-old Teagan Torres or 11-year-old Damien Torres, priorities for the first day of school could differ.

"It was like a diamond and I ripped it (my first tooth) out," Teagan Torres said.

For Damien, getting supplies ready sits near the top of the list.

"We got notebooks, folders, pencils, pens and notepads," Damien Torres said.

However, things their mother, Michelle Augustine, sees as a priority right now are back-to-school eye checkups.

"As I learned with my oldest (Damien), he needed glasses," Augustine said. "He used to struggle with reading, but since he's gotten glasses, it's really improved."

Dr. Jeffrey Sarazen, of Envision Eyecare of Wausau, said 1-in-4 children have a vision problem.

The Wisconsin Optometric Association reported that at times, children with vision related learning difficulties may show hyperactive or disruptive behavior in school, which leads to a misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), rather than the actual cause of an undetected vision problem.

This is because of the similarities in signs and symptoms between undetected vision disorders and ADHD.

"Kids don't know any better," Dr. Sarazen said. "So we need to educate the parents on how important it is for their kids to come in for eye exams."

About 80 percent of a child's early learning comes from vision, and the WOA reported a school vision screening is no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam from an eye doctor.

One of the most common vision problems children are seeing is near-sideness, Sarazen said, which is when a patient has a hard time seeing far.

"Kids don't know what their missing," Sarazen said. "They don't think the world looks any different than what they're seeing."

Programs like VISION USA and Sight for Students are two programs where kids can apply to get free eye exams and glasses.

Sight for Students was started in 1997 and has provided free eye exams for glasses to more than 500,000 low-income/uninsured children at a cost of more than $96 million.

VISION USA, The Wisconsin Project program, offers comprehensive eye care services at no cost to children from low income, working families who cannot afford the cost of care and who may not have insurance coverage.

"Maybe some people are really sheepish and are afraid to ask for help," Sarazan said. "But it's rewarding to be able to offer these people an exam and a pair of glasses because there's a need."

The need for glasses was apparent for Damien.

"You're not able to see through their eyes," Augustine said. "If they're seeing like that for so long, it's normal for them."

Now that Damien looks through his frames, the doctor said he has to wait just one more year for a new kind of lens that are usually not recommended until children are 12 years old: contact lenses.

Visit their websites for more information on applying:
VISION USA: www.woa-eyes.org
Sight for Students: http://www.sightforstudents.org/


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