By: Landi Whitefield
“A ‘Z’ is for Zebra,” says the pre-k student to Central Elementary School Nurse Jody Fain. She is conducting a basic eye exam, one most of you are familiar with, using a black and white letter and number chart. The “old school” vision test is obviously not very user friendly to little ones that don’t yet know their ABCs or 123s. Jody stated nothing can compare to the Stephenville Lion’s Club’s Kidsight program and their state-of-the-art digital vision screener which helps identify vision abnormalities in young children.
Many of you have heard of the Lions Club’s efforts to collect and redistribute old eyeglasses to people in need, but most don’t know that they are still very much an asset in making sure that young children do not lose their gift of sight. The Lions test children in public pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade. The screener tests for myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (blurred vision), anisometropia (different eye sight in each eye, includes lazy eye), strabismus (eye misalignment or cross-eyed), and anisocoria (different sized pupils).
Sometimes children don’t know that they can’t see well because they were born with it. Parents assume that if you go to your regular pediatric visits, that eye problems will be caught there, but several pediatricians still use old eye charts for screening. Often times parents also wait to take their child to the optometrist until the child is bewildered by not being able to see the board at school. Vision disabilities are the number one disabling condition among kids today that can be completely prevented. Little ones that go undetected not only could go blind, but many lead to developmental issues, learning problems, self-esteem, and behavioral issues.
Nurse Fain and Mr. Prather had three little volunteers lined up to show me how they conduct the tests, Jace Rogers, Rhett Reed, and Paisley Tatsch. The screener has small bright lights and the volunteer stands three feet from the child and takes a photo of each eye. They are able to screen a child in about two or three minutes. Then the screener produces a paper read out that lets volunteers know if there is any visual impairment.
Paisley was previously screened, and Kidsight found an impairment. She was referred for glasses so that her vision problem could be fixed. Since her parents were notified of an issue at such a young age, Paisley will not miss out on any learning opportunities due to vision problems. The kids stated that the test “doesn’t hurt and is kinda cool.”
Mr. Prather stated that the old screener they used required film and took weeks to conduct the screenings on kids, but this one is much more accurate and user friendly. If the screener finds an impairment, the school sends out a letter to the parents letting them know what the digital readout indicated so that they can visit an eye doctor.
Brian Haile’s son Hudson was screened by the Lions Club at Central several years ago and was found to have amblyopia, or lazy eye. He stated that when they got the letter it was a shock, and when they took him to the eye doctor they found that Hudson was legally blind in his right eye. Hudson had to wear a patch, then a thick lens, and now only wears a contact in one eye to correct his sight. Mr. Haile stated that he was so thankful to the Kidsight program for saving Hudson’s sight that he became a member of the Stephenville Lions Club.
Mr. Prather stated, “The late George and Maryland McLain were influential in getting the Kidsight program started with the Stephenville Lions Club. They spent countless hours taking and analyzing the pictures the old machine took and wrote referrals to eye doctors. They were a huge part of getting the Stephenville Lions Club the new camera.” Mr. Prather assists his fellow club member, Charlie Dawkins, who heads up the Kidsight program for the club. Mr. Dawkins sets up all of the dates and times with the various elementary schools to test the kids, and then the school nurses take care of the rest.
The Stephenville Lions Club Kidsight program is phenomenal and costs children, parents, and schools in the area nothing. If a child is in need of glasses after the screening, the Lions will help with that too. Of course, the club welcomes donations at any time to continue their civic endeavors, but they really need your help getting the word out about the Kidsight program.
Currently only 40% of parents at Central Elementary alone sign and return the permission slip in order for the Lions Club Kidsight program to conduct the vision screening according to Nurse Fain. If they don’t get the permission slip back they cannot conduct the screening. That means that 60% of the kids at Central Elementary School from pre-k to 2nd grade may potentially have vision issues that could lead to not only blindness, but low self-esteem and learning issues that are preventable by this FREE screening.
Photography by Landi Whitefield