Did you know that children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have serious problems with their vision? This statistic is alarming enough on its own, but it's even more concerning when you note that almost 40% of the children assessed in the study had never had an eye exam before. One of the reasons that children with learning disabilities like autism aren't accessing needed optometric care is because it's difficult for parents to find the right optometrist to treat their child. If you're one of these parents, here are 3 questions to ask your eye specialist to make sure they're the right choice for your family for your family.
"Can you offer a special appointment slot?"
Given that autistic children have many personal obstacles to overcome during a medical appointment, assessments can take longer than they would for neurotypical children. As a result, it's important that your optometrist can offer you a 'special' slot that's longer than usual -- ideally a double or triple appointment. This ensures that your child has time to relax and take things at their own pace, which is the best way to ensure diagnosis goes quickly. You should also ask if it's possible to get an appointment with a low waiting time, such as the first appointment of the day. Many autistic children will become more nervous and disagreeable if they have to wait a long time in the office.
"Are you willing to adapt the atmosphere?"
The optometrist's assessment room itself can be one of the most challenging aspects of the appointment. Given that most autistic children suffer from sensory processing issues, the overload of audible, visual, and olfactory stimuli they'll be exposed to could cause them to 'shutdown' or panic. You'll need to go with an optometrist who's willing to make special adaptations for your child. This may include turning off all unneeded equipment to lower noise and allowing you to participate in the exam (by holding the occluder, for instance). They also need to be willing to make changes to themselves temporarily; removing lab jackets and washing off perfume can help an autistic child stay calm, while removing their jewellery and tying their hair back is a good idea if your child is prone to injurious or destructive behaviour.
"Do you have non-verbal assessment materials?
If your child is non-verbal, it's essential that your optometrist has assessment materials available that will work for them. Even if your child is verbally-fluent, if they're very nervous about their appointment or they experience sensory overload while there, they could struggle to identify letters when asked. There are many pictographic assessment tools which use symbols (rather than the alphabet) to diagnose eye problems like astigmatism, stereopsis and colour blindness, so try to find an optometrist who has access to these.