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Now they know their ABCs, but can they see? Ark. ODs improve vision, eye health for preschool children

July 14, 2013
Wanda Vaughn, O.D., at right, provides ArOA books to a Head Start preschool teacher.

Wanda Vaughn, O.D., at right, provides ArOA books to a Head Start preschool teacher.

Fewer than one-third of Arkansas children entering kindergarten annually receive any kind of vision testing in pre-kindergarten. Thanks in part to funding from the AOA’s Healthy Eyes Healthy People® grant program, and working with the Arkansas Head Start program, Patricia Westfall-Elsberry, O.D., has turned her program goal of increasing the proportion of preschool children receiving eye exams into a reality.

Detecting early childhood eye problems is a subject Dr. Elsberry takes very seriously. That’s why she developed the “Focus on Improved Vision and Eye Health of Arkansas Children” program to increase the proportion of preschool children (ages 5 years and younger) undergoing eye exams by eye care providers in the preceding 12 months.

Dr. Elsberry and Wanda Vaughn, O.D., serve as program project directors.

“We believe that parent education is the key to increased comprehensive eye exams for children,” Dr. Elsberry said. “In developing the program, we used a focus group to educate parents of preschool children on the importance of eye exams by an eye care professional.”

In Fort Smith and Searcy, Ark., preschool programs collaborate with the Arkansas Optometric Association and local optometrists. The ODs offer education materials and encourage parents of 4-year-old preschool children to take them for comprehensive eye exams.

Participating school libraries also receive children’s books that focus on visiting an eye care professional.

“Every 4-year-old classroom in participating schools received 10 books that focus on visiting eye care professionals, getting glasses, or specific vision problems,” according to Vicki Farmer, Arkansas Optometric Association executive director.

The program encourages teachers to read the books to their students and parents to check out books to read with their children.

Educational materials distributed to all 4-year-olds in the program include:

  • “Your Preschool Child’s Eyes” (Healthy Eyes Healthy People® brochure)
  • The AOA’s “Ready For School: Understanding the Difference between Vision Screening and Vision Exams”
  • The Arkansas Optometric Association’s Student Vision Card (modeled after Iowa) – to all 4-year-olds in the program.

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