Column: Taking care of special eyes 


Commentary by Dr. Katherine Schuetz 

Good news: We are not all the same. Some of us, or our kids, need different approaches than the standard whether it comes to learning, medical issues or developmental milestones. Just like all educators are not equipped to work with special needs students, not all doctors are trained how to examine and treat patients who can’t communicate or undergo testing the standard way. 

We are so fortunate in our area to have many specialists that are wonderful working with patients with developmental delays, are on the spectrum or have physical disabilities. Knowing that your provider is educated in appropriately approaching you or your loved one makes a world of difference in the exam, the data garnered from the exam and the treatment plan. If a doctor that sees a special needs patient isn’t comfortable seeing patients that can’t be examined by standard means, that doctor simply won’t be able to evaluate what is needed. 

Many people think we need a patient to read the letters on the chart to assess vision. Not at all! We know that asking a nonverbal person to look at the chart and read the letters is simply not effective. But showing them a video that captures their attention and then looking with a special instrument that doesn’t touch them, we can assess whether that patient needs a glasses prescription. No need to read the chart! 

Knowing methods to get the information for each type of patient is paramount to the success of a visit. For each special needs patient, we carefully explain what we’re going to do before we do it and use many other personalized methods to maximize each situation. 

Kids of any developmental ability don’t know to complain about imperfect vision, because it’s what they know and live with every day. We all have some imperfection in our lives that we deal with because it’s just the way it is. But poor vision is a situation that can be corrected in most patients. What if your child has poor reading skills because they can’t see the print as clearly as everyone else? Or what if your child has a head tilt because one eye is different from the other? Sometimes we must accept the status quo and sometimes we can improve it. Why wouldn’t we investigate what we can easily improve? 

There are simple, nonthreatening, noninvasive ways to check the vision and ocular health of every patient. Just make sure you see someone who knows how to do it!