Home Newsmakers Back-to-school Exams Take on Additional Counseling Element

Back-to-school Exams Take on Additional Counseling Element

As doctors and patients alike prepare for the back-to-school season, everyone is aware that this year will look a little different. As a parent and an optometrist, Tina Douroudian, OD, of Sterling, Virginia, recognizes the considerations and concerns of both sides. “It’s a hard decision for parents,” she says. She notes the conflicts inherent in when parents will feel comfortable sending their kids back to school versus when they will have to. “For a lot of families, those don’t align. They have to go back to work, but if there’s not in-person school, that’s a problem.”

Initially, she and her husband were lucky. “We were relying on my parents, who live pretty close by, while everything was shut down… but that’s not sustainable,” she says. She also sympathizes with the school employees and teachers. “Schools are doing the best they can with precautions,” she says. “I really feel for all the teachers and administrators. It’s a tough spot.”

No matter if kids are learning in a school building or at home, some things about this time of year stay the same. “For all kids, it’s important that they see an eye doctor before we start a school year,” Dr. Douroudian says. “Eighty percent of the learning that enters the brain gets there through the eyes. For kids, this can make huge detrimental changes if their vision isn’t good. The impact is wide-ranging.”


Unique times call for unique measures. Knowing that some students will be learning in a socially distanced way, she strives to make an individual plan for each student. If the student is facing a large amount of screen time, she suggests a dedicated pair of eyeglasses designed for blue light protection. On blue light, she says, “we know for sure about it is that it does disrupt our sleep patterns and can increase stress hormones. We are still learning about blue light long-term effect, but kids’ eyes are still developing. We need to protect them from anything that could be problematic.” In other words, she counsels a better-safe-than-sorry approach.

She also talks to parents about the big-picture of a socially distanced school day. “If you’re going to do distance learning, spend time outside. Do things other than being sedentary in front of a screen.”

“All the parents have been very grateful for me telling their kids directly that they have to take breaks,” she says. “I think it’s helpful for parents to hear–and for the kids to hear it from someone other than parents. We want to give guidance to help you.”


This time of year is not solely for helping to prepare the students, it’s also to benefit the parents–something she has grown more adept with after becoming a parent herself. “You don’t know what is happening in a parent’s life from the 30 minutes that person is in the office,” she says. “I found that my approach now comes from a place of more empathy. I’ll take the time to explain why these things are important rather than jump to becoming judgmental about why, for example, the parent didn’t come in to replace eyeglasses immediately after they broke. Whatever we can do to provide care for that child is helped when the parent understands what we’re saying.”

That makes his back-to-school advice a mix of the traditional children’s vision exam “with an extra dose of counseling,” she says. As schools are making their determinations—and often tweaking them—about in-person, virtual or hybrid learning, there’s certain to be an increased amount of distance learning. “I’m anxious to see how that’s going to play out,” she says, from both a vision development and academic standpoint. It may be too soon to draw firm conclusions on either front. “I have a lot of children in myopia management therapy right now–and I don’t know how this will affect their results,” she says. “This is a difficult time for everyone.”

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