Back-to-School Checkups: Why Kids Need to Go and What Parents Can Learn



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“It’s always a good idea to make sure your kids are ready to start the school year in the best shape possible,” explains Dr. Michael P. McKenna.

Fall can be a hectic time. Not only do parents need to make sure their kids have all of the necessities for school—supplies, clothes, a class schedule. They also need to pencil in a checkup for their child. Why? “It’s always a good idea to make sure your kids are ready to start the school year in the best shape possible,” explains Michael P. McKenna, M.D., pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. 

Certain children, though, may benefit even more from a before-school exam, including those who have a chronic illness like asthma, allergies, ADHD or diabetes, he says. Why?“Your doctor can make sure all of your child’s medications are up to date for the year,” says Dr. McKenna. Depending on your state’s requirements, kids who play sports may also need a physical before they can start practicing with the team. Because many schools have stopped giving these exams at school, he says it’s a good idea to inquire and schedule soon.

During these general exams, your doctor will also make sure your kids are up to date on the necessary immunizations they may need for school. Two other things they’ll be checking, which are important for success in school? Vision and hearing.

Although some schools still offer vision screenings, many don’t, but it’s worth having your child checked regularly. “Kids are often embarrassed or afraid to speak up about problems with vision, which can cause their performance in school to drop,” Dr. McKenna says. While they’re not optometrists, family physicians and pediatricians can do basic screening to see if your child needs additional care. 

Hearing changes aren’t as common as vision changes, but they can occur. And while big things like complete hearing loss often get flagged, subtle hearing changes from things like listening to devices too loudly may not be spotted in everyday life as easily, Dr. McKenna says.  

Lastly, your pediatrician or family doctor can also help evaluate changes in your kids’ behavior. “Although part of our training has been in child development and behavior, we’re often an underutilized resource for these issues,” Dr. McKenna says. So, if your child is having any problem in school, whether physically or behaviorally, talk with your doctor. The earlier these problems are addressed, the easier it can be to catch things and make adjustments. 

By Karen Asp