“No matter what grade your child is entering, routine physical examinations, including hearing and vision tests, help ensure that your children are truly ready for school,” Freeman said.
Here is a handy back-to-school health checklist:
Have your child’s hearing checked. Most states mandate hearing tests for babies and toddlers, but school-age children may not be routinely tested. Clues to hearing loss include listening to the television or music at a very high volume or favoring one ear over the other. If indicated, your pediatrician can recommend an audiologist for an in-depth evaluation.
Have your child’s vision screened. An annual screening is vital to ensure that children can see well enough for schoolwork. A vision problem can likely be corrected, preventing children from falling behind in school. Be sure that glasses or contact lenses are in good condition and that your child’s prescription is current.
Keep shots up to date. Immunizations are necessary to prevent infectious diseases. Your child will not be allowed to attend school without the required immunizations. Vaccines or booster doses for older children that were not required when parents were younger may be needed. To be sure, ask your pediatrician.
Investigate possible learning problems. If you suspect that your child is developmentally delayed, including not processing information correctly, speak to a teacher or contact a learning center for advice. A diagnosis usually requires one to two days of professional testing. The sooner you discover a disability, the sooner your child can be taught how to compensate.
Inventory your child’s mental health. What’s your child’s behavior like? Are his reactions appropriate in most situations? Is he anxious or apprehensive about school? Children typically need about a month to adjust to change, but factors such as a new school, class bully or new transportation routine may cause ongoing anxiety. If your child seems anxious or unsteady, talk to your pediatrician or a counselor who can help you identify the source of the behavior and work out a solution.
Plan ahead on prescriptions. If your child takes medication for asthma, diabetes or any other chronic problem, make sure you have plenty on hand for home and school. Inform school nurses and teachers of your child’s needs, especially if a school employee will administer medicine. Speak with staff members before school begins and work out a course of action for emergencies.
Equip the athlete. Provide all necessary protective equipment for children involved in sports. Children with braces and/or glasses require extra protective measures, even for gym class. Invest in sports frames for the eyes and a mouthpiece to protect dental work. Save time by completing forms and physical exams in the summer, if possible.
Address sleep issues. Is your child having trouble sleeping? Issues such as sleepwalking, insomnia and nightmares can impede school performance. Begin a routine sleep schedule about a month before school begins; the body needs more than just a couple of days to adjust to factors such as earlier bedtimes and fewer hours of daylight. If problems are severe, your pediatrician may recommend a sleep specialist.
Editorial Note: Dr. Davidson Freeman is a pediatrician at the Georgia Health Sciences Children’s Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University. He received the Chairman’s Award for Leadership and the Exemplary Teaching Award from MCG and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. A husband and father of three, Freeman has been in pediatrics for more than 25 years.
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