By: Kari R. Cardiff, O.D.
We all can agree that proper eye care is essential for infants and children. Why then are we still encountering a twelve-year-old child with refractive amblyopia who has never been examined and has never worn glasses or patched? I believe it is partly because the child’s family was never told to get their child’s eyes examined. Since the child has clear vision in one eye, the child never complained. Perhaps the child had a school screening but the good eye was tested first and the child memorized the letters? I feel that conversations about InfantSEE, RealEyes, and pediatric eye care in general should be a standard in our everyday lives as eye doctors. Whether the child is seven months old or twelve years old, normal visual development and clarity is essential for taking in all the world has to offer.
During the first several months of a typical child’s life, the brain is intensely attending to all new sights, sounds, tastes, and touches. When the brain is so accepting of new information and change, it can be easily transformed for the better or for the worse. For instance, any disruption in binocular vision in a young child can result in amblyopia. We are aware of the fact that a non-premature, developmentally classic baby should have their first eye exam between six months and twelve months old. When is the last time you told someone this or about the InfantSEE program and the importance of an eye exam before age 1? I take advantage of every opportunity to inform people about these things. Here are some examples of situations where I have had the opportunity to educate on InfantSEE: when examining an expecting parent (female or male); when examining older siblings of infants; and in conversations with friends and family. This is my usual statement: “Did you know I offer free eye examinations to babies 6-12 months old here? It is through a program called InfantSEE. We will assess the baby’s visual behavior, ocular health, glasses prescription, and eye alignment. This exam can be imperative for the baby’s vision development. A baby’s eye examination is quite different than an adult’s. Don’t worry, I won’t be asking them what is better, 1 or 2?” After the exam, I send a report to the patient’s family and pediatrician to keep everyone informed. Even if you do not participate in the InfantSEE program, I am sure the Ohio Optometric Association would be happy to connect you with someone who does.
As all of us were taught, 80% of learning occurs through vision. Typical school-aged children require clear and comfortable vision for effective learning. Most school nurse and pediatrician office screenings do a wonderful job of prioritizing patients and separating out the normal from abnormal; however, I feel that it is still important to remind parents, teachers, pediatricians, and school nurses that nothing replaces a complete and dilated eye examination with an eye doctor who is comfortable seeing children.
I am a RealEyes presenter and the programs and curriculum are always fantastic and age-appropriate. But I strongly believe the most important part comes at the end of presentation when I hand out the worksheets and state, “Please go home and show this to your family. Tell them that you want to go to the eye doctor for an examination. Tell them about what you learned today. Even though you may think you see well, an eye doctor can make sure your eyes are healthy and are functioning at the best of their ability.” Even if only 25% of the children go home and follow through, that is still 25% more children getting eye examinations. For ‘Sammy Safe-eyes,’ the pre-K and Kindergarten curriculum, I inform kids that when they sign their name at the bottom of the first page this acts as a promise that they will go home and share what they have learned with their family. Also, with each visit to the school, I am able to interact with school nurses and teachers. I always heighten their awareness regarding the importance of eye care. Some teachers do not know about VSP school vouchers for students with suspected poor vision and limited resources for eye care. I always give out my business cards to teachers and school nurses. I make it a point of letting them know that they should not hesitate to call me with questions or concerns about their students. Additionally, I also often ask friends and family who are teachers in Ohio if RealEyes is presented at their school. If it is not, I take whatever steps I can to further the prospects of these schools having the program.
We should all strive to take every opportunity to educate parents, teachers, nurses, pediatricians, and friends about the importance and significance of appropriate vision care for all of the infants and children we encounter. A definite here is that we all love eye care. Who doesn’t love kids? No eye doctor can deny their love of talking about eye balls! I believe that more consistent discussions and proactive education in regards to InfantSEE, RealEyes, and general pediatric eye care can make a priceless difference in countless numbers of children’s lives. Please do your part.