Eye Appointments for Little Kids: Our Story

We’ve been visiting a pediatric ophthalmologist for over six years, and people often ask me what the eye exam process is like for young children.

(Brief backstory: Addie was born at 26 weeks and had Retinopathy of Prematurity while in the NICU, losing most of her peripheral vision when she was just a few months old. Since her laser treatment in September of 2008, we have had regular follow-ups with our doctors to ensure the disease has not spread–which, thankfully, it has not.)

Addie got her first pair of glasses when she was 13 months old, due to having one near-sighted eye and one far-sighted eye. Isn’t she cute?!

Eye Appointments for Little Kids: Our Story (glasses, patching, and more) from Lone Star SignersShe also wore a self-adhesive patch on her stronger right eye for a few hours each day for nearly two years (4 years old until her sixth birthday), and it worked! Her left eye is now nearly as strong as her right eye, so we’re taking a one-year break from patching. (Her six-month check-up showed no regression.)

Our younger (full-term) daughter has been tagging along to big sister’s appointments since she was an infant. She had her first official eye exam before her first birthday and several casual follow-ups at the end of each of Addie’s eye appointments. Our pediatrician first noticed a subtle crossing, which was originally thought to be due to wide-set eyes, but two years later, her left eye still turns in. After unsuccessfully patching, we will now be trying a pair of bifocal glasses to train her left eye to focus and work together with the right eye.

After six years of eye appointments, here are my top 5 helpful tips:
1) Schedule an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist before your baby’s first birthday. These doctors are highly trained (at least five years past medical school) and can catch vision problems early.
2) Add your child to your vision insurance when they are born. You may not need it, but glasses for little ones are expensive (to the tune of $300) and it hurts to pay out of pocket. (FYI: Our ophthalmology appointments fall under medical insurance, not vision.)
3) Expect to sit with your young child and help the doctor through the exam. Kate is now three and can do the exam independently.
4) A great ophthalmology team will be quick, efficient, and fun. I am constantly amazed at the “bag of tricks” (light up toys, stickers, 3D glasses, and more) that keep my girls giggling all the way through. Addie (6) can now read letters from a chart, but Kate had a special chart with symbols (tree, horse, cake) to identify. Ask for specific recommendations from your pediatrician, friends, and anyone you see with a child in glasses. More than likely, you’ll start to hear the same name over and over again.
5) Pack snacks and activities. If your child’s eyes are dilated, the appointment could take up to two hours. The wait goes a lot faster if you’re over-prepared.

We love our ophthalmology team, and we actually pay out of pocket to visit them up to four times a year. Check with your insurance provider and consider choosing a Health Savings Account to allow you to see the best doctor in town. Your child’s vision is worth it!

What happened to your eye?| Patching for Amblyopia

Our five year old daughter has been wearing an eyepatch for nearly a year now. As a 26 week micropreemie, Addie was diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity when she was just a few months old. She had laser treatment on both eyes as an infant to prevent the retinas from detaching permanently, which has the side effect of losing some (most?) of her peripheral vision.
At the age of 13 months, Addie was fitted with her first pair of glasses. (Isn’t she adorable?!) After first speculating that she had torticollis, it was discovered that she has one near-sighted eye and one far-sighted eye.
We have regular check-ups with the pediatric ophthalmologist to make sure that there is no progression with the ROP. This time last year, it was discovered that she also has amblyopia, a brain condition that allows one eye to work harder than the other. As a result, she wears the eyepatch over the strong eye for three hours every morning–the goal is that the weaker eye will “catch up” sooner or later.
Recently, one of my friends recommended the children’s book The Patch by Justina Chen Headley. It was a great conversation starter for the two of us–obviously Addie knows WHY she wears a patch, but she doesn’t like having to explain it to every person who asks. (Until we read the book, I never really knew how much it bothered her having to wear it in public.)

Last week at the library, Addie picked up My Travelin’ Eye, which is an ADORABLE book about a little girl with amblyopia and strabismus. The book is written about the author’s own experiences as a child, which added an extra layer of authenticity (for me as a parent). Jenny Sue was able to articulate for ALL children that what makes her different isn’t something that necessarily needs to be “fixed”.

We’re hopeful that at our next appointment, we’ll hear that the patching has worked! But even so, there will always be one thing or another that sets our beautiful miracle apart from her peers (scars from surgery, missing finger on her right hand, etc.). One of the reasons we choose to sign with our children is that we want to increase their sensitivity towards all people, to learn that differences are strengths, and to celebrate the beauty of diversity that is all around us!