Providing health care for children with autism can be a challenge for both families and health care providers. Not only does autism often come with comorbid health issues, such as digestive and sleep problems, but many children on the spectrum have trouble communicating even simple health needs when they arise. One such health need that sometimes goes uncommunicated and undetected is visual impairment.
“A typically developing child might be able to tell his or her parents that they have trouble reading the chalkboard at school or watching a television from across the room,” said Bridget Lolli, a nurse clinician at the Thompson Center. “However, a child with autism may not be able to communicate these issues, which can lead to problems not only behaviorally, but academically as well.”
Thanks to support from the Healthy Vision Association (HVA), Thompson Center providers have been able to offer vision screenings to patients in order to identify patients who may be at risk for visual impairment.
“Providing health care to children with autism inherently has it’s challenges,” Lolli said. “Multiply that by several times when it comes to assessing things like vision, especially for providers without special training on working with children with special needs.”
The vision screenings provided by the Thompson Center make special use of technology to make the process as quick and simple as possible. Using an iPhone app called “Go Check Kids,” Thompson Center nurses are able to take quick images of patients’ eyes. The app analyzes the shapes of the eyes and is able to determine if those shapes indicate a risk for visual impairment.
“The app is able to tell us within seconds whether or not a child may need additional care for vision issues,” Lolli said. “If it does identify a child as at-risk, we are able to immediately refer them to an MU Health Care pediatric ophthalmologist who can help address those issues.”
This service is made possible thanks to a grant from HVA. Thompson Center providers hope to expand the visual screening program in the future so even more patients can be assessed for risk of visual impairment.