The Importance of Sight and Hearing Tests

In our work as teachers and specialist teachers, we support children in developing their learning using our expertise from training and experience. If a child is experiencing difficulty in acquiring new knowledge, the answer can sometimes be obvious to us, such as a need to develop their phonic knowledge before they can efficiently read words. However, on other occasions we can find ourselves unpicking a mystery.

To give you a couple of examples, having worked with a school for some time, I was aware that they provided very high-quality intervention to support children developing their reading skills and yet, they kept raising one young girl for discussion about what else they could try as nothing seemed to be working. As an ‘off the cuff’ remark, I asked whether she had ever had a sight test. Discussion with the parents showed that this child had not visited an optician, but they arranged an appointment immediately. When I next visited the school, it was to be told that she had been prescribed glasses for a significant sight deficiency. She was a changed child; she had begun to read, showing great enjoyment in books that she had previously been unable to see clearly, and was much more sociable.

The second example is a boy, who was in Year 3 and had been discussed with us due to his lack of attention and concentration. Further exploration with the school and his parents showed that he often spoke in an unusually loud voice and without changing the tone of his voice, had the TV turned up very loud, seemed unable to follow instructions and was struggling to read having never fully grasped his letters and sounds. It was suggested that he should see the GP to get a referral to an audiologist to have his hearing checked. This found that he had glue ear, which can be treated with drops or insertion of grommets. Following treatment, the child’s hearing returned to ‘normal’ levels and his access to learning and social interaction improved dramatically.

Why am I sharing this? It is estimated that 95% of what we learn about the world around us comes through vision and hearing. Difficulties in these areas can affect your child’s speech and language development, social skills and educational development.

Routine screening of vision and hearing is carried out on new-born babies and by doctors and health visitors during the early years. Most children will have a screening check when they enter primary school. However, these screening checks are not as comprehensive as those provided by a qualified optometrist or audiologist.

If you have concerns about your child’s sight, they should see an optometrist; the recommendation is that children should have a sight test by the age of 3, or earlier if you think there is a problem. Children’s eyes are fully developed by the age of 8. Under the NHS, eye tests are free for all children up to the age of 16, or up to 19 if they are in full time education.

Signs of a possible sight problem include:

  • Difficulty recognising printed material (letters, objects, colours)

  • Sitting very close to the TV or holding objects close to their face

  • Blinking a lot or rubbing their eyes

  • Difficulties with spatial awareness, such as knocking things over or struggling with shape matching

For concerns regarding hearing, advice should be sought through your GP or health visitor, who can refer your child to an audiologist.

Signs of a possible hearing problem include:

  • Inattentiveness or poor concentration

  • Not responding when their name is called

  • Talking loudly and listening with the TV at a high volume

  • Difficulty pinpointing where a sound has come from or following a conversation

  • Mispronouncing words

  • Difficulty acquiring knowledge of letters and sounds to support reading

  • A change in progress at school

If you have any concerns, do get them checked out with the relevant professional.