The crucial role of paediatric vision screening
Over the course of a child’s life, they will need to take multiple tests. Most of these will happen at school, be it for maths, spelling or reading – but one of the most important tests they take isn’t to do with any of these topics, it’s to do with their vision - and it happens at just four-years-old.
Paediatric vision screening is a test used to detect disorders of vision that can lead to amblyopia, more commonly known as lazy eye. The condition, which affects approximately two per cent of Australian children, causes a reduction in vision in infancy or early childhood for no known reason and if left untreated, can lead to lifelong vision impairment.
In New South Wales, all four-year-old children are offered free vision screening before they start school through StEPS (State-wide Eyesight Preschooler Screening).
As an orthoptist, these tests are essential in identifying eye problems in children and enable us to treat or correct their vision problems as early as possible.
Each year, The Orthoptic and Ophthalmology Departments across our Network see thousands of patients who have failed the primary community-based screening. Thankfully though, due to early intervention, we are able to help most of these children and give them a good, if not great, visual outcome by the time they are eight years old.
Some might wonder why the test is performed at the age of four. Why not earlier or why not when children are older? The reason is at the age of four, children are not only able to perform letter matching tests, but they are also going through a critical stage in their development, particularly their visual development, which makes it the ideal window of opportunity for treatment.
It’s important for parents to know that these visual problems may not always be able to be spotted either. More often than not, children don’t complain of vision problems, in fact they may not even realise that their vision is different because they have one good eye.
This is why universal vision screening is so important.
The most common reason for lazy eye is that children have a need for glasses and the prescription is often stronger for one of the eyes. In this case lazy eye is treated with glasses that children wear full time for a period of about 12 weeks. This usually helps the lazy eye to correct itself to normal vision however, if sub-normal vision persists, other treatment options are explored.
Understandably, treating an eye problem can be confronting for a child so the techniques of play, distraction, adaptability and a ‘never give up’ attitude cannot be underestimated. Our clinic rooms are always filled with fun glasses frames, bubbles, colourful pictures, fluffy toys – you name it, to help put children at ease during their appointment.
The ability to build a strong connection with families allows us the opportunity to provide accurate information around eye problems in childhood and in turn, much needed reassurance to families who may have concerns about their child’s eye health, which goes a long way in achieving the best outcome for the child.
It’s this ability to build a rapport, a sense of trust and an element of fun with our patients that makes what we do as paediatric orthoptists so unique and so invaluable.
Senior Paediatric Orthoptist
This week, 1 June – 5 June, marks Orthoptics Awareness Week and in 2020 is focused on ‘Children’s vision – Seeing the future’. The week aims to highlight raise awareness of the orthoptic profession as well as the vital role paediatric orthoptists play in children’s eye health.