Zoe is young enough that most of her eye exams didn’t use any of the eye charts that we normally think of to determine her prescription. They used Teller Acuity Cards – where they showed Zoe a grey card with a box of black and white stripes, if she looks at the box, then she can see the stripes. They show cards with progressively thinner stripes until she no longer noticed them (they get thin enough that I could hardly perceive the box of stripes). You can read more about the test in this information sheet from Seattle Children’s Hospital (pdf). They also dilate her eyes and then the ophthalmologist use a retinoscope to measure the refractive error of her eyes.
At her last appointment in December, she’d just turned 2, they tried having her use an eye chart. Zoe was given a card with the 4 different shapes, and then the optician would point to a shape and ask Zoe to point to the matching shape on her card. Zoe didn’t get it. She was deep in the mimicry stage and did a very good impression of the optician, holding her card out for her to see and pointing at each shape one by one. Cute, but ultimately unhelpful.
We tried again at her appointment on Friday and she did awesome – both in terms of understanding what we were asking her to do, and in that she’s seeing well and equally well out of both eyes. About a month ago, her daycare had focused on shapes, and just recently, we’d started playing matching games with her. Though we weren’t intentionally trying to prepare her for the eye exam, I think those activities helped a lot in getting her to understand the task.
If you have a young toddler going in for their first eye exam, or if your child is getting old enough to start using eye charts, I’d recommend practicing ahead of time, especially with matching games. We played a memory game – where you have cards with pictures on them laid out and you turn them over and try to find a match – but we had all the cards face up. I’d pick up a card and ask Zoe to find a match. You could draw a bunch of different shapes on paper and again ask your child to find matches. Shape-sorters would probably also work as well. At home, you can explain that these are matching games, and then at the eye exam, again explain that you’re going to play another matching game. Zoe seemed to find the exam pretty fun.
The Visionary Eyecare’s Blog has a great post with pictures of some of the more common eye charts for children, if you want to look at some examples. At Zoe’s appointment, they used the Lea chart.
To cover Zoe’s eyes, the optician hung a patch over her glasses on one eye, and then the other. She told Zoe that Zoe would be a little pirate for a bit. I don’t know if it’s related or not – but I can’t come up with another explanation – that evening, Zoe kept singing to herself, “hi-yo, hi-yo, I’m a pirate. Pirate, pirate, I’m a pirate.”