Our vision is one of the most fundamental ways we view the world – so much that we tend to take it for granted and forget to give our eyes the attention they need. This is especially true when it comes to younger children who spend an increasing amount of time on digital devices at increasingly younger ages. Children who haven’t had myopia testing may also simply be unaware of their impaired sight, making early detection challenging.
Inspired by his own experiences with a cataract, optometrist and preschool owner Andy Teo has developed a unique book that allows both teachers and parents to conduct myopia testing easily at home. Here we chat with Andy to find out more about the importance of early detection of childhood vision problems.
What inspired you to develop the Children Eye Screening Book for Teachers & Parents?
I give regular talks on vision and learning to preschool and primary school teachers both locally and in the Southeast Asia region. These talks are typically followed by pro bono eye screenings for school children as not all countries provide universal eye screenings to schools. Through this, I found that many children had undetected eye problems that affected their academic and social development.
This inspired me to develop an eye screening book for teachers or parents, enabling them to identify potential eye issues among young children early and facilitate timely intervention. Ultimately, we wish to work with schools to get them onboard to provide annual universal eye screening for all children.
What first made you aware that myopia and other eye problems among young children was becoming a serious problem?
Rising myopia has always been my primary concern, especially since children are getting acquainted with digital devices at an increasingly younger age. As an optometrist and a preschool owner, I routinely screen all the children in my school from the age of two. We’ve actually detected toddlers with congenital myopia with numbers as high as -7.00D (700 degrees).
In Singapore, about 50% of children are myopic by the age of ten, increasing to 65% by the time they turn twelve. What is especially dramatic are the numbers that emerged from China. Before COVID, the rate of myopia among the six-year-olds stood at approximately 5%. The numbers rose dramatically to 20% just after a year of home-based learning (2021-2022).
How did you discover that you had a cataract as a child?
As a child, I never realised that I had a problem with my vision. I thought everyone saw the world the same way as I did. It was only during a routine eye screening test at the age of 8 that I discovered I had cataract in my left eye.
Aside from the incredulity that someone at my age had a cataract, my parents told me that I should have told them that I was unable to see clearly. This made me aware that young children don’t know what’s ‘normal vision’ or ‘blurry vision’ when they’ve only been seeing their version of the world all this while.
This personal experience fuelled my determination to start a movement to provide universal eye screening and myopia testing for young children in schools in the region.
Can you tell us a bit more about how teachers and parents can use this book for myopia testing in children?
‘The Children Eye Screening Book for Teachers & Parents’ is a simple and comprehensive tool that helps detect potential eye problems in children as young as three. Instead of letters, the book consists of shapes that decrease in size with every turn of the page. Shape cards are provided for children who are unable to verbalise the name of the shapes so they can point towards the shape that they see.
Should the child recognise the shapes, the parent or teacher moves to the subsequent page with smaller shapes. This continues until the child is unable to progress any further. For most children, the entire process takes just 10 minutes.
With increased usage of digital devices among young children, what are some preventative measures parents and teachers can take to ensure their eyesight is protected?
Here are six preventative measures parents can take to prevent eye problems:
#1 Limit screen time
Establish reasonable limits on the amount of time children spend in front of screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour of screen time per day for children aged two to five, and consistent limits for children aged six and older.
#2 Encourage breaks
Encourage children to take frequent breaks from screens, especially during extended periods of use. The 20-20-20 rule is a good guideline to follow: every 20 minutes, have them look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
#3 Maintain proper viewing distance
Teach children to maintain a proper viewing distance from screens. The ideal distance is about 20 to 28 inches away from the eyes.
#4 Ensure good posture
Encourage children to maintain good posture while using digital devices. They should sit up straight, with their feet flat on the floor and the screen at eye level.
#5 Encourage outdoor activities
Encourage children to spend two hours playing outside or enjoying nature. Outdoor time helps to reduce the strain on the eyes from constant screen use.
#6 Regular eye exams and myopia testing
Schedule regular annual eye examinations with your optometrist to detect any potential eye problems at an early stage.
Why is early detection of eye problems in children so critical?
Early detection is critical because it allows for timely intervention and treatment to prevent adverse consequences to a child’s learning and development.
Children may also experience issues with social interaction, poor self-esteem, and even permanent vision impairment from progressive eye diseases. Early intervention significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and optimal visual outcomes for children.
I recall an instance a nine-year-old student came to our practice and parents suggested she may have learning and attention issues in school. It turned out that she had 500 degrees of uncorrected myopia and that made the whole world blur. Had her poor eyesight been detected earlier, she wouldn’t have struggled with learning for such a long period.
How can Expat Living readers support this project?
There are several ways people can offer support.
Firstly, they can contribute to our Indiegogo campaign and help support our ‘Children Eye Screening Book’. Depending on the options chosen, they may support the cause by either purchasing the book or making a donation to schools in developing countries or to the underprivileged. Either option would allow them to become a part of this important initiative and contribute to the visual health of young children. The schools and generous donors are sincerely appreciated and will be showcased and honoured on our new website.
We are advocates of early eye screening for children from three years old, so parents are also welcome to bring their children to have a complimentary eye screening at our Vision & Perception Practice by texting us at 9641 2430 or emailing email@example.com for an appointment.
Written in collaboration with Vision and Perception.