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Correcting poor vision boosts preschoolers' performance.


Preschoolers with uncorrected vision problems performed at lower than normal levels on visual-motor function tests that are indicative of success in school performance, but their scores on those tests improved within 6 weeks of receiving prescription glasses to correct their vision, results from a controlled study demonstrated.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Diego, followed 70 children (aged 3-5 years) from low-income families who were seen by clinicians on the university's mobile eye clinic, which serves preschoolers who attend federally funded Head Start programs and the state-funded San Diego Unified School District.

At baseline, 35 children had normal vision and 35 had ametropia (farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism). All of the children took two standardized tests that relate directly to future school performance: the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (VMI) and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-R). The VMI is a nonverbal test intended for children aged 3-7 years that requires them to copy 18 large geometric figures in a sequence of increasing difficulty. The WPPSI-R contains a performance scale that has six subtests involving visual-motor skills, spatial analysis, visual perception, and planning, and a verbal scale that involves six subtests of verbal abilities.

After baseline testing, children in the ametropia group received prescription glasses to correct their vision. The researchers repeated the VMI and the WPPSI-R 6 weeks later in all 70 study participants (Arch. Ophthalmol. 2008;126:252-8).

At baseline, children in the ametropia group scored significantly lower on the VMI and WPPSI-R, compared with the normal-vision group. After 6 weeks of vision correction, children in the ametropia group had significant improvements on the VMI, compared with the normal-vision group. The researchers also observed that children in the ametropia group improved on WPPSI-R scores at 6 weeks, but those scores did not differ significantly from those in the normal-vision group, leaving them to speculate that that the WPPSI-R may be less sensitive to visual-motor integration skills than is the VMI.

The results suggest that early identification and correction of ametropia "should optimize cognitive development and learning, at least in the studied sample," concluded the researchers, who were led by Dr. Stuart I. Brown of the university's department of ophthalmology.

They cited three possible explanations for why children in the ametropia group had reduced visual-motor integration skills at baseline, compared with children in the normal vision group. The first is that children may not be able to see the testing materials, which is "unlikely because the tests use large, high-contrast materials." A second reason could be that ametropia is a "risk factor for a neural alteration not yet understood. Finally, ametropia may make near tasks uncomfortable, interfering with development of visual-motor coordination skills in these preschoolers."

The study was supported in part by the Foster Fellowship in Vision and Development and Research to Prevent Blindness. The researchers had no relevant conflicts of interest to disclose.


San Diego Bureau

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Title Annotation:Clinical Rounds
Author:Brunk, Doug
Publication:Pediatric News
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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