False Positives And False Negatives


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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

For most people, vision is their most precious sense. For children, this is even more significant, as about 80 percent of what a child learns is through the visual system. Most parents take their children to the dentist for regular preventative care, but rely only upon obvious signs of a vision problem, or upon a school or pediatrician screening, before seeking professional eye care for their children.

A vision screening does not diagnose a problem, but rather identifies children in need of further assessments.  A vision screening is often performed by parent volunteers, with just a few minutes of training, or by pediatrician offices.  However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vision screenings were not even attempted on almost two out of three of three-year olds, and a screening “attempt” was defined as “10 seconds or more” of testing.

Even with completed screenings, there can be false positives (a suspicion of a problems where there is none), and false negatives (passing a screening in spite of a problem).  Also, most vision screenings test for visual acuity only (eye chart), and according to the American Foundation for Vision Awareness, this only identifies about five percent of vision problems in children.  Although a child may see clearly from 20 feet away, it doesn’t mean that the child’s eyes work together efficiently, can track properly, can see and read comfortably at 12 inches away, or can make easy visual transitions from distance to near and near to distance.  (Testing in those areas, which are rarely part of a screening, are routinely part of a comprehensive pediatric eye exam.)  Even for children who “fail” a vision screening, studies show that less than half ever receive professional eye care, and the average time between the screening and the eye exam is 18 months.

As the school year begins, make sure you are setting your children up for success by making sure their vision, the predominant sense in learning, receives a grade of 100 percent.

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