'Thankfully it was caught in time': School principal's surprise find during vision screening

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Prep vision screening program Registered Nurse Julie-Ann Douglas with Caravonica State School principal Michelle Davis.

Prep vision screening program Registered Nurse Julie-Ann Douglas with Caravonica State School principal Michelle Davis.

Parents and carers are being urged to add child vision screening to their back-to-school shopping lists, to give Far Northern children the best start to their education.

The prep vision screening service, delivered by the statewide Primary School Nurse Health Readiness Program, aims to give Queensland children the best start to their education as they transition into primary school.

Registered nurses Julie-Ann and Jessica, who are based at Cairns North Community Health, visit local schools across Cairns and the Cassowary Coast to provide free vision screening for prep students.

The service provides the opportunity for visual abnormalities to be detected and treated early and, in turn, minimise the impact on a child’s learning.

Julie-Ann and Jessica last year screened 1,891 children, 5 per cent of which were referred to eye health professionals for further assessment.

The prep screening service has provided new figures showing the importance of early childhood vision screening, helping detect conditions such as amblyopia, or a ‘lazy eye’ which – if not treated early – can lead to blindness.

Caravonica State School principal Michelle Davis, whose school is one of 67 across the Far North serviced by the centre’s nursing team, intimately knows the importance of vision screening.

Ms Davis’ son Jakob, now 20, had his vision screened at age 5, at Wonga Beach State School.

‘They told me he had a vision problem with his right eye,’ she said.

‘We took him to an optometrist and basically found out that his eye muscle had stopped developing probably around the age of 2 or 3.

‘Thankfully, this issue was caught in time, so they could work on this until he was 7.

‘He was given prescription lenses, and we patched the lens on his left eye to teach his right eye to do all the work. We were also given activities to make his eye as strong as possible.

‘Jakob still needs corrective lenses but it’s a lot better than it was.’

As a result of Ms Davis’ son’s eye condition being detected through screening, she also had her eyes tested.

‘They found out that I had acute angle glaucoma, and that I actually needed to see an ophthalmologist,’ she said.

‘At any stage, I could have ended up blind – and I didn’t know, because I’d never been to an optometrist.

‘So, I am very thankful for the screening.’

Julia-Ann Douglas, a Registered Nurse with the Prep Vision Screening program, said out of 10 children referred onto specialists, 7 were found to have a vision abnormality.

‘Vision screening checks for common eye conditions that may impact your child’s ability to see and therefore impact their learning and development,’ she said.

‘This includes eye conditions such as myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia (long-sightedness), astigmatism, strabismus (squint/turned eye), and amblyopia (lazy eye).

‘All of these conditions, if not treated early, can lead to serious vision problems, including blindness.

‘They can also cause difficulties in the classroom, including problems with concentration and behavioural issues, which can lead to poor learning outcomes.’

She said the program screened children’s vision using two non-invasive screening tools: a card matching game and a photograph of the eyes taken with a special automated camera and took less than five minutes per patient.

‘If your child’s vision is screened, you will be sent the results in writing,’ she said.

‘If a vision concern is found you will receive a phone call from the nurse to discuss referral to an eye health professional (optometrist or ophthalmologist) for further assessment.’

Read more about the Prep Vision Screening program.