Keeping an eye on the senses

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:07 PM

The 4-year-old and his twin sister, Amelia, each listened to a series of beeps for hearing tests before they enter preschool this fall.

The young Spring Lake residents are among thousands of students who will have their hearing and vision tested this year as mandated by the state for children ages 3-5. As the young preschoolers grow, they will receive periodic tests from Ottawa County Health Department officials.

Last year, health officials screened 14,579 children for hearing and 17,946 children for vision throughout schools in the county. Of the students tested last year, officials referred 423 to hearing specialists and 1,277 to vision specialists.

Although Quentin passed the hearing test without missing any beeps, he and his sister struggled slightly with their vision.

The twins' mother, Sarah Arnold, said she knew Amelia had some hearing difficulties stemming from fluid in her ear, but didn’t know about either child’s vision. The Spring Lake mother said her twins were born premature and underwent testing as infants, but the recent test was the first since then.

“You never know what you might find,” Sarah Arnold said.

Janine Chittenden, child health team supervisor for the Ottawa County Health Department, said it’s important to have children tested because an undiagnosed problem could lead to developmental, social and academic issues. Genetics or an underlying health issue might cause changes in hearing and vision.

“Sometimes you pick up things that wouldn’t get noticed,” Chittenden said of the tests.

Although parents are required to have their children screened, Chittenden said there are signs parents can look for on their own. For example, a child with a vision problem might hold a book closer or farther away, or squints or tilts their head. A child with a hearing problem might turn the television to a loud setting.

“It’s not always obvious,” Chittenden said.

Children are tested for hearing at ages 3-5, and in grades 2 and 4. Additionally, children are tested for vision in grades 1, 3, 5 and 7, and some schools offer screening at grade 9.

If a child fails either screening, officials notify parents and have them tested again. If children fail the second test, they are sent to a specialist.

Chittenden said they follow up with families who don’t see specialists and continue screening them at schools to keep an eye on any problems.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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