Checking children: how to spot and solve problems
Dental, hearing and eye tests for schoolchildren can diagnose problems so the right treatment can start early, but parents need to know what to look out for
Tara Moriarty from Fethard Co Tipperary with her sons Jack and Sean. Photograph: John D Kelly
We all have childhood memories of visits from the “school nurse” and bittersweet afternoons off for routine visits to the dentist or eye clinic. It was part and parcel of school life: everyone in the class was tested at about the same time and if inoculations were to be had, no one escaped the dreaded jab.
Apart from feeling apprehensive about being poked and prodded by a stranger, for the most part, you didn’t think too much about it. However, when you become a parent, it’s a whole other story. You want to know what tests your child should have, when he should have them and where should you go if you have any concerns in between.
Tara Moriarty runs a business consultancy and is a community activist in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. She has always trusted the system to ensure that her sons, nine-year-old Jack and three-year-old Seán, get all the developmental checks and immunisations they are entitled to.
“Jack was in first class when he first received a referral letter for an eye test,” she says. “To be honest, it is something that I would have never initiated myself unless I had noticed that Jack was having problems. He attended the first eye appointment at our local clinic in 2010 and, because I have worn glasses since I was four, I knew there would be a possibility that either Jack or Seán would someday need them too. After Jack’s examination, it was diagnosed that he would need to wear an eye-patch for a number of months,” says Moriarty.
Two appointments later he picked out his glasses but his eyesight has improved so dramatically that he no longer needs to wear them. “I am really glad that the service was available through the schools because if he hadn’t been called up, I’m sure his eyesight would be a lot worse today.”
Moriarty says further routine checks have proved invaluable in highlighting other health problems that might have gone unnoticed.
“When Jack was in second class, he received an appointment for a dental check,” she says. “Jack was apprehensive as a few of the children had to get braces but he is now going into fourth class and has had three dental appointments so far, one of which was with a hygienist.
“These appointments are given to all students regardless of whether or not they have a medical card. I have found the service very good . . . but I think there would be great benefit in having a class for parents on dietary requirements and general health issues for children so that we can prevent tooth erosion or eyesight issues.”
Rebecca Good is an educational psychologist and director of Éirim: The National Assessment Agency, which provides educational assessments for children, adolescents and adults. She says while these developmental checks are vital, parents should also watch out for emerging problems because many children are diagnosed with learning difficulties when in fact the problem lies with a hearing or sight issue.