Thursday, September 13, 2012

Help your kid—and Special Olympics athletes—see better!

Back when Max was born, doctors told us he might have vision issues because of the stroke. It took a long time for him to be able to focus on faces or anything close by. I can still recall how sad I felt when I bent down to say hi after I got home from work; Max smiled, but couldn't look at me. Give it time, the doctors said. Within he year, his eyesight improved. He gets vision check-ups every year, and while he may need glasses in the future, he's OK for now.

Children with cerebral palsy are at higher risk for vision problems, especially eyes that turn in or out, typically due to the muscle weakness caused by the CP. People with intellectual disability also have a heightened risk for vision problems, although it's not known why, says optometrist Paul Berman.  What's clear is that problems sometimes go undetected. "Parents may assume that a child with disabilities is having trouble with, say, hand-eye coordination because of his disability, not realizing that vision issues may play into it," he notes. Another challenge: A child who's seeing blurry or double may think that's typical and not speak up; a child with cognitive impairment or communication issues is even less likely to do so.

It's estimated that some 60 percent of people with ID haven't received an eye exam in three years. Vision Service Plan (VSP) is doing something about it: The company is donating up to 50,000 gift certificates to Special Olympics athletes for a free eye exam, new glasses and follow-up eyecare at VSP eye doctors' offices. The just-launched Send A High Five campaign will run through November.

How it works: You just choose an animated high-five (or low five or "crosstown" or first bump) over on See Much More. Click! You've given a Special Olympics athlete free eyecare. And you can do it as many times as you'd like.   

Dr. Berman's the founder and global clinical advisor for the Special Olympics Lions Club International Opening Eyes program, which provides free vision screenings to Special Olympics athletes; an estimated 35 percent have not received an eye exam in more than three years. He's seen firsthand how interventions can help: "We were at the Special Olympic Games in Alaska, and an athlete came in who was 18 years old. His eyes were focused three inches from his nose. I said to him 'Jim, what event do you play?' He says, 'Doc, I do track and field.' I asked, 'But how do you see?' And he answered, matter of factly, 'That's easy, doc, I follow the blur in front of me!' After he got glasses, he came back to visit with his gold medal!"

To keep an eye on your child's eyes, speak with your doctor if you notice any of the following signs: A child frequently rubs eyes (which can indicate inflammation or that a child thinks rubbing might improve vision); an eye turned inward or outward; head tilting (a child may adjust his head position to see better or improve double vision); holding things super-close, like toys or books; standing too close to the TV; and poor hand-eye coordination.

Pediatricians do vision screenings for infants, and may also recommend seeing an optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist when kids have disabilities. "Early detection and intervention are key," says Dr. Berman. "They can really make a difference between a non-functional eye—and an eye that can be improved."

Thanks to VSP for sponsoring this post, and for their awesome High Five campaign.

Image: Flickr/Matt Buedel

1 comment:

  1. Now I'm thinking of having my kid's eyes checked. His fine motor skills are great, but he has a lot of the other indicators you mentioned. Next doc appt, bringing it up for sure (he's there so often, may as well wait until then to see what they recommend)


Thanks for sharing!

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