Vision screening can change a child’s life

Vision screening can change a child’s life
For four-year-old Ashley James, a simple vision screening at his preschool may have proved life changing.

Ashley was diagnosed with amblyopia, or lazy eye, in his left eye, after a routine screening by the Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Screening (StEPS) program at his Dunoon preschool earlier this year.

Thursday, 12 October is World Sight Day, and a great reminder to keep an eye out for vision screening programs in your area.

“We had no idea that Ashley had any vision issues, partly because of the nature of his condition which is in his left eye. He’s got good vision in his right eye and no-one had picked up that he had any problem,” Ashley’s mother, Emma Pittaway, said.

“Because he’s only four, there is a window of opportunity to somewhat correct the amblyopia. If we hadn’t known about it, he could have gone on through primary school before it was detected and it would have been too late to change any of it.”

After the initial screening by a specially trained nurse, Ashley was referred to an optometrist and an ophthalmologist, who prescribed glasses and patch therapy to correct the condition. The experts both agreed that without treatment, Ashley may have possibly eventually lost all vision in his left eye.

“We were really shocked, and so were his preschool teachers, when the screening came back showing there was a problem. We’re really grateful that the program is in place to pick up this kind of issue,” Emma said.

The StEPS program offers free vision screening to all four-year-old children before they start school, and is routinely delivered through preschools and childcare centres.

“Vision screening is essential at this age because it is a critical development period, and the earlier we’re able to detect a problem, the more likely it is that we’re able to correct it,” explained Jennifer McKay, StEPS Program Coordinator, Northern NSW Local Health District.

“Children are particularly at risk of suffering from undetected vision problems because they may not realise they can’t see well, and may not complain of eye problems,” Ms McKay said.

Ms McKay encouraged parents to look out for the program when it comes to their child’s centre, and to complete the consent form to have their child screened.

Parents of children who aren’t attending preschool can also arrange for an individual screening at local Community Health Centres by phoning the StEPS office on 02 6620 2836.

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