Protecting a child’s eye health could also help them succeed in the classroom, a physician said.

Dr. Stephanie Rice is the pediatric optometrist at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s west clinic. For 20 years, she has been helping her patients support their vision and eye health. She has a special certification in vision development, which means she works with children from infancy through their teenage years.

One way of helping a child succeed in school could be overlooked. Sometimes, a patient comes to Dr. Rice after struggling in the classroom.

“I can help them to function better and get better vision. And that way they can succeed in life and in the classroom,” she said.

Rice said one in four children have an undiagnosed vision-related learning problem.

“Kids will often be struggling to read or even copy from the board. Maybe math skills are difficult for them. They don’t understand why they’re struggling when other kids around them seem to be succeeding at these things. They may start having a lot of self-confidence issues, and then they become more reluctant to try in school,” Dr. Rice said.

There are other signs parents can look for that could indicate their child might have a vision problem. Those signs include excessive blinking, rubbing and head tilts. A child may close one eye, or squint. Vision problems can also show up as behavioral issues or even as symptoms of ADD or ADHD, she said.

Even with those signs, some children may still be able to learn their sight words easily, Rice said. However, problems can emerge later.

“When they begin reading on a page, they struggle to read the sentences, or follow along. If they lose their place frequently when they’re reading or if they’re writing their letters or numbers backwards after age seven, that can indicate that they might have a vision related problem,” she said.

Routine eye exams, beginning at six months of age, can help parents catch potential problems before they develop. Dr. Rice participates in a special program that provides free eye exams for infants from six months to one year of age, regardless of insurance or income.

“We can detect a lot of health problems or even potential for lazy eye at that age. That’s why we like to start them (early),” Rice said. “I like to see them at age three and then every year through school so we can detect those problems early.”


As a child grows and becomes more active, there is a possibility they might experience an accidental eye injury. Parents can help prevent some of those accidents.

“Firework safety is very important. Sparklers burn at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit so they can really injure an eye very quickly,” she said. “Toddlers can accidentally get cigarette burns on their eyes. And then if they play sports, we want to try to encourage them to wear sport safety goggles so that they don’t get any injuries to the eyes.”

Even if a child isn’t participating in sports, outdoor time should include eye protection. Ultraviolet rays can be harmful.

“UV protection is also super important for kids. The younger they can start wearing UV protection, the less likely they will have cataracts or macular degeneration when they become adults. The sunglasses should say 99% or 100% of the UVA and UVB rays,” Dr. Rice said.

Many children use mobile devices, both in school and for entertainment. Dr. Rice encourages parents to monitor the use of these devices.

“I always like to tell my parents and my patients about how to prevent nearsightedness. It’s related to how close we (hold devices) to our face and how long we do it before we take a break,” she said. “I recommend a good working distance of about 16 inches from their face, which is usually about the distance from their middle finger to their elbow from their eye bone. So, just below chest level and right above the belly button.”

Dr. Rice said it’s important for children to take breaks when using mobile devices. During the pandemic, some research suggested children under age nine that have a lot of handheld screen time are more likely to become nearsighted at an earlier age, and then need much stronger glasses before they become adults.

“I recommend always following the 20-20 rule. So, 20 minutes of near work, then a 20 second break where they look off in the distance. I play ‘I Spy’ with my child and entertain him during that 20 second break,” Rice said.

A child’s diet can also impact their vision. She recommends eating leafy, green vegetables and dark, orange vegetables to help maintain eye health. Leafy greens contain lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C, antioxidants that protect eyes from harmful UV rays, according to WebMD. Orange vegetables contain beta-carotene, potassium and fiber, which protect the eye’s surface and over time, may prevent macular degeneration.

Wearing glasses

If a child needs glasses, sometimes it can be a struggle for the child to accept them. Fortunately, the selection of frames available for children includes fun colors, styles and other ways the child can express themselves.

“Luckily, the frames are so much cuter than they used to be. But it’s important to let them kind of choose their frame color and their style a little bit, so that they like what they get. You can encourage them and let them know that they look good in their glasses, so that they can start feeling better about themselves,” she said.

Dr. Rice said newer technology like transition lenses, which turn tinted in the sunlight, also helps kids adapt to new glasses.

Rural health

She appreciates the opportunity to serve a rural population.

“I love working with rural populations because sadly, they’re underserved. Sometimes they have a lot of visual problems. Being able to reach these kids, especially when it’s no cost to come see me, is fantastic. I’m really excited to be here,” she said.

Her experience with pediatric eye care has taught her to listen to her patients and carefully evaluate their symptoms to identify problems and solutions.

“Some parents have said, ‘Well, they passed their vision screening test,’ or ‘They’ve gone to other eye doctors, and no one’s ever caught this.’ But because of my specialty, I’m able to listen to their symptoms and then dig in a little deeper than what you might get at a regular eye exam,” she said.

Since she has been with CPNHS, she appreciates the opportunity to help parents identify what may be causing their child’s challenges. When parents learn it can be solved with eyeglasses, they are often relieved.

“I think that it’s really kind of kind of awesome because, the parent knows something’s wrong and they feel like their child should be succeeding, but they can’t understand why,” she said. “They just feel so relieved. They’re like, ‘Oh, there’s something I can do about this.’ I think that’s really, really cool to help that parent get the answers they’ve been looking for.”

For more information about CPN Health Services, including optometry, visit