Back-to-School Health Checklist
Experts say how to keep your child on the right track to health this school year.
Shuffling your child back to school these days takes more than a new
wardrobe and a shiny apple. What about the dizzying array of immunizations?
Hearing and vision tests? Special instructions for the school nurse? And tips
for buying and loading a backpack that won't turn your precious offspring into
an achy, whiny pack mule?
Those Dreaded Shots
"We won't enroll any student without an immunization
record," says Candy Mac Donald, RN, PHN, MSN, school nurse for eight
schools in the Marysville Joint United School District in Marysville, Calif.,
north of Sacramento. "There are more and more shots now, too," she
adds, including hepatitis B, chickenpox, and possibly a booster of the MMR in
junior high (flu shots also may be recommended).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) web site fully
explains childhood vaccinations, advising you what is needed at what age. Your
school district or local health department will also make this clear, and you
can consult your pediatrician as well.
In California, Mac Donald says a first grade physical is
recommended and will probably hold true if performed before kindergarten.
"We had to have the shots, period," says Jennifer
Santesteban, who has a 10-year-old son in a Phoenix school district. Many
health departments also offer free immunizations to children for some families
without insurance. If you are in doubt, ask the school secretary for
Can Your Child See Clearly?
As many as one in 20 children can't see out of one of their
eyes, according to Pamela F. Gallin, MD, director of pediatric ophthalmology at
Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York Presbyterian Hospital in New
York City. "This is a difficult observation [for a parent] to
Gallin recommends vision testing by your pediatrician, even
though some testing is also given in school in some areas of the country.
"A younger child can 'read' the chart by turning a hand in the direction
the "E" is facing," she says, describing what she calls the
"E" game. "School-aged children, even kindergartners, probably can
identify letters or at least numbers."
The reason to have this done is simple: Kids who can't see well
can't perform as well in school.
Gallin says she as a parent demands screening by an eye
specialist. "All parents should," she says. Yet, she explains, often
parents tell her, "My kid would tell me if he couldn't see." She says
often this is untrue. They don't know any differently and kids with one eye not
functioning will even try to fake out the doctor on the eye test, peeking
around the eye blocker. "We have all been faked out," Gallin sighs.
If one eye is not working properly, what can be done to treat
lazy eyes? "It's a real pain to fix," she admits. Children have to wear
a patch over the strong eye. "They hate it," she says. Some improvement
comes quickly but treatment takes time. The eye-patch system, however, makes
the brain tune up to process visual input better. "The child achieves
peripheral vision, too," she says.
Between 2% and 5% of the population is legally blind in one
eye, according to Gallin. "It's a national health issue, but no one is
At her schools in California, Mac Donald says, an optometrist
comes in to test the kids.