Eye exams just got harder again

Zoe this fall

Zoe’s a pro at eye exams now.  I don’t think I could even hazard a guess at how many times she’s been to the eye doctor in her 6 short years.  Way more than a dozen times for sure, probably less than 50, though sometimes it feels like we’ve been there that often (I am very much aware that we have it far easier than if she’d had a more complicated eye condition).  The first handful of appointments were rough, she hated the drops and the waiting and the bright lights.  Plus she was 1, and it wasn’t easy to explain what was going on to a one year old, especially when it was all new to us, too.

But as the exams got more familiar, they got easier, too.  She still doesn’t like the drops or the lights, but now we know to bring books and toys to help with the waiting, and she’s pretty good at explaining what happens in the exam herself.  So I wasn’t worried when we went in for one of her regular check ups the other week, and didn’t really give the exam a second thought.  In retrospect, I should have been more thoughtful.

Things have changed a bit recently.  Zoe’s in Kindergarten, a full-day class that leaves her tired by the end of the day – and a class in which she’s used to being asked questions with right and wrong answers, especially when it comes to letters and numbers.

I’ve always recommended that people  NOT schedule eye exams over naptime, since tired kids don’t mix well with eye charts, eye drops, and waits in an office.  But Zoe hasn’t taken naps for a few years now, and I didn’t really think about the fact that she’d be tired at the end of the day, when I scheduled this appointment.  Worse, it was at the end of the day on a Friday.  Needless to say, she was tired.  She didn’t have a meltdown or anything, but as I watched her go through all the different tests, I could see her frustration growing, and her patience waning.

The “tumbling E” eye chart that they used in Zoe’s exam.   Zoe didn’t get to do her exam outside, though. Photo from National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (http://www.nei.nih.gov/photo/).

For the first time, they had Zoe do the tumbling E chart rather than one with pictures.  Now that Zoe’s in Kindergarten, we’re encouraged to quiz her about numbers and letters, something she normally enjoys.  But I think that made the the eye chart seem more like school work. Zoe picked it up right away, but it broke my heart to see her getting upset when she wasn’t sure of the answer, or when she thought she got something wrong.  As if a wrong answer was her fault or meant that she hadn’t learned her letters well enough.  Both the tech and I tried reassuring her that if she was having trouble seeing, that was ok, it meant her glasses needed to change, not that she was wrong or not smart enough or anything like that, that seemed to calm her a bit but I’m not sure it helped much.

Then they did the phoropter and the whole “which is better, one or two?” routine.  I know a lot of adults who hate that part of the exam, and Zoe certainly didn’t enjoy it.  She seemed really confused – another test that she didn’t know the right answer to – and I saw the frustration peeking through again.

A young patient being examined with a phoropter to determine the refractive error. Photo from National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (http://www.nei.nih.gov/photo/)

The exam then took a turn for the absurd when we went in to meet with the ophthalmologist and I, clearly not paying any attention at all, managed to completely miss the chair and ended up on my butt on the floor, completely confused by what happened.  The doctor seemed similarly stunned to see me sitting not on the floor.  I hadn’t expected the exam to become a literal pain in the butt.

In the end, the results weren’t particularly bad.  Zoe needed a slightly stronger prescription for her astigmatism.  The doctor said she might not even have recommended that we change the prescription, except that Zoe was looking sideways through her glasses a lot, which is an indicator that she wants a stronger prescription.

It has gotten me thinking that I still can’t take the eye exams for granted, and should do a bit more preparation for the next exam.  My game plan includes:

  • Try to schedule the exam on a day when she doesn’t have school.  Luckily, the next exam should fall around spring break time.
  • Talk more about what it is that they’re testing in the eye exam.  I wish that there was a different word to use rather than “test” since that’s the word used at school.  I think we’ll talk about the fact that she’s growing, and just as the rest of her is changing, so are her eyes.  And so we need to be sure her prescription still matches what she needs to see clearly.
  • Talk more about the “which is better?” test.  Maybe even practice at home if I can figure out how to do that.  (For others that dislike that particular part of the exam, it’s always helped me to know that it’s totally a personal preference thing – they’re trying to fine-tune your prescription to how you like it, there’s no right or wrong answers.  At least, that’s what I’ve been told.)

How have you prepared your kids for eye exams?  Has anyone else run in to a time when an exam is suddenly difficult after years of them going relatively well?

One response to “Eye exams just got harder again

  1. Mine is still pretty young (3) and doesn’t use a lot of the big equipment, but I have found that just letting him know we’re going, and reminding him of the types of things we do, really helps.


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