When we talk about learning challenges affecting school-age children, conditions like dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity often come to mind. But vision and eye health? Not so much, even though one-quarter of kids have an unrecognized vision problem. That means many kids are struggling when an easy solution could literally be right before their eyes.

At a Monday afternoon session on children and eye health, presenters said we’re doing a huge disservice to our kids by not making vision screening a bigger priority, especially since vision problems can have a huge impact on kids’ health, wellness and academic success. The session’s big message was crystal clear: Improving kids’ vision is both a public health and educational concern that needs a closer look.

School readiness must begin at birth, said Glenn Steele, a professor at the Southern College of Optometry in the Pediatric Service. But that readiness is complicated by vision problems that make it hard for kids to read and write and perform other basic functions. And with just 14 percent of kids entering the first grade having completed an eye exam, too many school-age children are missing out on an important piece of their health.

Even health practitioners may fail to identify vision-related learning disorders in children. That’s because many vision problems may look like something else, explained Wendy Rosen, a certified early childhood and elementary education teacher. Fifteen of 18 symptoms of ADHD are concurrent with a vision-related learning problem, she said, as are 13 of 17 dyslexia symptoms. In turn, kids may receive inappropriate treatment, doing nothing to solve the real issue at hand.

Without the right fix, kids with vision problems can suffer from symptoms such as headache, eyestrain, fatigue, blurred vision and short attention spans, all of which can impede their educational success.

“We have a whole category of vision problems that many people are unaware of and an incomplete understanding of what vision really is,” Rosen said. “We need to become vision literate as a society.”

April Nakayoshi, vice president of evaluation and programs at Prevent Blindness Northern California, also found that children’s vision problems weren’t being properly addressed during an assessment of well-child annual checks at two Bay Area Head Start programs. At one agency, a whopping 62 percent of kids who needed glasses still passed their Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment, a benefit offered to children enrolled in Medicaid. Nearly half of kids at the other Head Start agency also passed the screening even though they needed glasses.

Fortunately, there are interventions worth celebrating, as Donna Bryant Winston of St. Luke’s University Health Network discussed. The health system reaches out to community groups to advance the goal of bringing vision care to underserved kids. In fiscal year 2017, St. Luke’s Bethlehem Partnership for a Healthy Community in Pennsylvania partnered with 32 local schools, transported about 150 students to an eye doctor and saw nearly 250 students on its Vision Van, which is equipped to provide on-the-spot eye exams and refractions. Almost 700 children were outfitted with eyeglasses, Winston said. The program also created a vision voucher program, offering families steep discounts on eye exams and glasses.

Winston’s story should give us hope, but it should also serve as a reminder not to lose sight of the importance of kids’ vision care. Why wouldn’t we want to give our kids every opportunity to thrive, especially when there are relatively simple interventions to make that goal possible? I’m sure that’s something we can all see eye to eye on.