New data could help reduce barriers to eye care for kindergarten students in Waterloo Region

A new partnership in the Region of Waterloo wants to identify barriers preventing kindergarten students from accessing appropriate eye care.

The School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Waterloo is leading the work with assistance from the Cowan Foundation, the Lions Club of Canada and Region of Waterloo Public Health.

A team of researchers is screening more than 6,000 kindergarten students at 150 schools in Waterloo Region for eye problems, with the aim of gathering data on how parents are tracking the results.

After each child is screened, parents will be asked to take their child to an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam.
Researchers will note how many parents will follow – and how many will not due to potential barriers.

Tracey Hagen, a special education consultant for the Waterloo Region District School Board, said collecting the data will help ensure more children get the eye care they need to succeed.

One of the research teams is led by Lisa Christian, Associate Clinical Professor and Associate Director of Clinical Programs at the University of Waterloo in the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, pictured here with a student from the kindergarten at Empire Public School in Waterloo. (Aastha Shetty/CBC)

An opportunity to educate

“So what if there were concerns present in the SK [senior kindergarten] screening, and then what would be the follow-up? How would we ever know that a family was able to follow up? If not, what are these barriers for families and how can we help support them?

The researchers hope to answer these questions by examining the data collected through this project. One of the teams is led by Lisa Christian, Associate Clinical Professor and Associate Director of Clinical Programs at the University of Waterloo in the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences.

She said the project gives them the opportunity to educate parents and teachers about the important connection between vision and learning.

“The advantage of coming to a school is that we can see the majority of children from Saskatchewan in the Waterloo region,” she said, adding that screening does not replace a full examination of the seen.

“We look for common eye conditions such as amblyopia, where one eye sees better than the other, depth perception, or if the child needs glasses to see,” she said. “Screening looks to see if any of these conditions may exist, and if so, hopefully this will encourage a parent to take their child to an optometrist as soon as possible.”

According to the University of Waterloo, about 20% of children aged three to six in Canada have vision problems that need to be fixed.

The university said in a press release that after all kindergarten students have been eye-screened in Waterloo Region, the next step will be to eventually expand the project to regions across Canada.

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