When Declan, a child with a lazy eye and astigmatism, put on his glasses for the first time and really saw trees, he thought he saw candy in the leaves.
But there wasn’t any candy. He was just finally seeing the details — the leaves, branches, flowers and fruit — of a tree. They were no longer green blobs.
Before Declan was screened by Prevent Blindness Oklahoma screeners, his parents never thought he had a vision problem. This is true for many of the children screened.
Last school year, the nonprofit screened 444,340 Oklahoma children in all 77 counties. Of those children, 41,411 were referred to an eye care professional.
Now, the group can help more children with a new piece of technology, the Spot vision screener.
Before the group received the Spot screeners, it relied on methods such as the standard chart screening, where children would look at a chart 10 feet away and answer questions, or a Random Dot “E” Stereopsis test for younger children to determine whether they can see 3-D effects, said Dianna Bonfiglio, CEO and president of Prevent Blindness Oklahoma.
The Spot test can screen children who can’t speak and can test children as young as 6 months, Bonfiglio said.
The test is especially useful for children who have trouble standing still, who have focus problems or whose first language isn’t English, since the children don’t communicate what they are seeing. The test does it for them, screener Amy Romberg said.
The test picks up on astigmatism, near-sightedness, eye misalignment and more.
The device, which looks like a cross between a View-Master and a digital camera, will instantly tell the screener what issues the child may have after it’s taken a photo of the eyes, Romberg said.
Last year, 64,005 were screened using the device, and 10,035 were referred on to an eye care professional, Bonfiglio said.
Part of Prevent Blindness Oklahoma’s mission when it started almost 50 years ago was to eliminate unnecessary blindness by screening children early and spreading awareness for preventative eye care.
The group is still working toward that goal. One of the biggest problems is people not taking their children to the eye doctor regularly, like they may do with the dentist, Bonfiglio said.
“You go to the dentist to prevent cavities. You go and get your teeth cleaned, that way you don’t get cavities,” Bonfiglio said. “Well, if you don’t go to the eye doctor, then you don’t know if you’ve got a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Many parents mistakenly believe if they don’t have eye problems, neither do their children. Additionally, sometimes children won’t tell their parents if they’re having eye issues because they don’t know they have them, said Kari Roop, Prevent Blindness Oklahoma board member.
“It’s one of those things where kids can’t always tell you that there’s a problem,” Roop said.
Prevent Blindness Oklahoma screened children in 1,259 locations across the state last year, going to public and private schools as well as Head Start programs and day cares, Bonfiglio said.
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