Indiana programs provide exams, fun for children, educate caregivers on importance of healthy vision

September 25, 2012

Indiana optometrist L’erin L. Garner, O.D., MPH, is surrounded by children participating in the “See to Read” program. Photo courtesy of Cara Earnest

If young children can’t see normally, how do they know to tell their parents? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of children and adolescents have a visual impairment, and fewer than 15 percent of all preschool children receive an eye exam. Indiana’s “Day with the Doctor” children’s vision program is doing something about it.

An initiative of the Indiana Optometric Association (IOA) and Grant County Indiana Early Head Start, “Day with the Doctor” is a new program planned for October.

As part of the program, participating Indiana optometrists will be providing comprehensive eye exams to preschool children in the community.

“The goal of this program is to perform comprehensive eye exams and provide essential refractive correction for preschool children in a primary care setting, while educating their caregivers about the importance of healthy vision in a child’s developmental process,” said L’erin L. Garner, O.D., MPH, Indiana Healthy Eyes Healthy People® (HEHP) chair and program director.

In addition to optometrists providing exams, children can participate in fun activities that are designed to educate parents about vision development and show them how everyday crafts and activities can be beneficial for their children’s vision at home.

Additionally, all children participating in the program will receive free protective sunwear.

Community focus

As part of the “See to Read” program,
Dr. Garner read “My Travelin’ Eye” to children at the Marion public library in Marion, Ind. Photo courtesy of Cara Earnest

“The Day with the Doctor intervention will identify 75 to 100 preschool children with unmet visual needs in Grant County, Indiana, and provide them with age-appropriate methods of evaluation and treatment,” Dr. Garner said.

The target audience was selected based on two unfortunate statistics: the percentage of children in the county living in need and the number of children enrolled in need-based development programs, such as First Steps and Head Start.

In support of the “Day with the Doctor” program, the IOA was recently awarded a $2,925 HEHP grant.

In combination with last year’s $4,600 HEHP grant to fund the “See to Read” children’s vision project, this has allowed the IOA to make a significant impact in many communities across the state.

The program will reach its audience through a Fall Festival Health Fair hosted by Grant County Early Head Start, a community organization that provides services to at-risk children.

Optometrists and staff at Midwest Eye Consultants – Longe Vision Center will participate in the health fair to educate caregivers about the importance of early eye examinations and schedule appointments for children to participate in the “Day with the Doctor” program.

See to Read program

Dr. Garner helps a girl create her own play glasses and eye patch. Photo courtesy of Cara Earnest

In addition to Indiana’s “Day with the Doctor” program, the “See to Read” children’s vision project is continuing this year with partner libraries in Indiana.

As part of this program, children’s departments at local libraries, in conjunction with local optometrists, sponsor a vision-themed children’s story time. Dr. Garner and other volunteer optometrists read the book “My Travelin’ Eye” to parents and children.

The book is a true story and discusses the author’s experience with amblyopia as a little girl. In the book, the author talks about her experiences at the eye doctor’s office, wearing glasses, and how, in order to make wearing a patch “a cool experience,” she decorated it in many fun styles.

“Ultimately, the children learn that visiting with the optometrist is not a scary experience, wearing glasses can be fun, and more importantly, they learn why they or their friends wear glasses,” Dr. Garner explained.

After reading the book, the children decorate their own foam play glasses and eye patches, while Dr. Garner talks with parents about the importance of seeking a comprehensive eye exam for their child.

Children get to take their crafts home, while parents are given educational brochures with additional information.

Parents are encouraged to take their children for an eye exam at some point after the program, and for those who do, their children are given a copy of the book that was read at the story time event.

Congratulations to Dr. Garner and the IOA for receiving a HEHP grant for the “Day with the Doctor” children’s vision program.

Dr. Garner practices with Midwest Eye Consultants in Marion, Ind.

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