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Doctors of Optometry, Parents, Educators and Legislators Applaud New Illinois Law Requiring Comprehensive Eye Exams for Children Starting School
Date:5/21/2008

Parents encouraged to take children early for eye exams: Waiting could

delay necessary treatment and create longer wait times

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Parents, teachers and doctors of optometry joined Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) and Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) today at a news conference in Springfield to celebrate a new state law requiring eye exams for children enrolling for the first time in Illinois schools and encourage all parents to have their children's eyes examined early to reduce the instances of eye and vision problems going undiagnosed and untreated in children.

"This law is expected to help thousands of children see better and perform better in school," said bill sponsor Sen. Deanna Demuzio. "Ensuring that children start the school year with healthy vision and that they are ready to learn will not only help them go far, but will help ensure success for the state of Illinois. I am proud to see this legislation enacted."

According to the Illinois Optometric Association, the new state law requires comprehensive eye exams for children entering kindergarten or enrolling for the first time in public, private, or parochial elementary schools in Illinois. Since comprehensive eye exams are the best way to diagnose eye and vision problems in children early, before they interfere with a child's ability to learn, doctors of optometry agree that the new law is a crucial step in ensuring that Illinois students perform to the best of their ability in the classroom.

At the news conference, optometrists encouraged parents to arrange for a comprehensive eye exam early to beat the traditional summer rush and to help ensure that their child meets the necessary requirements in time for the beginning of the school year. Optometrists at the event also emphasized that parents need to understand that a comprehensive eye exam is more than a mere vision screening that relies, for example, simply on a standard eye chart.

Only licensed optometrists or ophthalmologists are qualified to conduct the eye exams under the new law. Proof of the required eye examination must be submitted by Oct. 15 of each school year. Additional vision examinations at various grade levels may be required when deemed necessary by school authorities.

"We know that healthy vision is essential for learning," said Charlotte Nielsen, O.D., president of the Illinois Optometric Association and a Grayslake optometrist. "All Illinois children deserve the tools they need to fulfill their potential, and our students will benefit from this law. We thank Sen. Demuzio and Rep. Tracy for their leadership on children's eye health."

Illinois joins Kentucky and Missouri as the third state in the nation requiring eye exams for children entering public schools.

"I am proud to say that Illinois is leading the nation with the best children's eye health requirements," said co-sponsor Rep. Jil Tracy. "This law demonstrates our commitment to children's vision and the role it plays in helping children learn and do well in school."

Illinois teachers were strong advocates for the law, recognizing the important role eye exams by qualified eye doctors plays in a child's academic success.

"Children suffer unnecessarily when they can't see as well in the classroom," said Steve Preckwinkle, director of political activities for the Illinois Federation of Teachers. "The eye exam requirement should be considered an important piece of the ready-for-school routine, just like well child check-ups, immunizations and other traditions."

Healthy vision for children means more than just seeing clearly. The eyes must be able to:

* Work together as a team

* Move accurately across a page and shift quickly from one object to

another

* Work together with the hands

* Focus at proper distances and change focus quickly; and

* Be aware of objects on either side while looking straight ahead.

Comprehensive eye exams for children entering school are critical for the early intervention needed to treat diseases and disorders such as amblyopia ("lazy eye"), strabismus ("crossed eyes"), retinoblastoma (a rare eye cancer) and other serious and potentially blinding problems that can lead to poor school performance and could ultimately affect quality of life.

"With nearly 25 percent of school-age children suffering from vision problems, this law is necessary to help detect problems and treat and prevent diseases that can cause vision loss," said Peter Kehoe, O.D., F.A.A.O., president-elect of the American Optometric Association and Galesburg optometrist. "I know patients throughout Illinois will be helped by this legislation."

Ten million children suffer from vision disorders, according to the National Parent Teacher Association. About 86 percent of children entering first grade don't receive an eye exam.

Comprehensive eye examinations are a cost-effective investment in Illinois' children. Approximately 70 percent of children nationally are insured for comprehensive eye exams through private insurance, Medicaid, S- CHIP or other state or federal programs. Optometrists, ophthalmologists and local charitable organizations will provide assistance for those families in need.

For more information and local resources, please visit http://www.ioaweb.org. To find a nearby optometrist, or to schedule an eye examination for your child, please visit http://www.aoa.org.

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association represents more than 34,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists provide more than two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States and serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country. In 3,500 of those communities they are the only eye doctors.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.


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SOURCE American Optometric Association
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