The Importance of Checking Children’s Vision

Below is an article published yesterday on SBS News about the importance of checking children’s vision and the 4 year-old vision screen known as StEPS. It features Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists Dr Frank Martin.

Preschool checks prevent blindness: report

A NSW preschool eyesight screening program is identifying problems that parents don’t notice and is giving children a chance at recovery.


Preschool eye checks are saving thousands of NSW children from going partially blind and should be extended nationally, researchers say.

Around 65,000 four-year-olds a year are checked and around 1000 are found to have significant vision loss in at least one eye, their report in the Medical Journal of Australia has found.

In most cases nobody would have noticed because the stronger eye compensates for the weaker eye.

Children don’t know they have a problem and appear to be functioning normally to their parents, says Dr Elisabeth Murphy, a member of a team that assessed the NSW eye-screening program.

Each eye is tested separately and a common problem identified is a lazy eye, which can be rectified if caught early.

In many cases a child’s vision is still plastic enough to develop normal vision, says co-author Professor Frank Martin, a paediatric eye specialist.

If problems aren’t found until later there may be improvements but the child will never end up with normal vision.

“We have corrected children who were legally blind in one eye,” says Prof Martin.

This potentially protects the children from blindness if the good eye is damaged later in life and solves problems with hand-eye co-ordination.

“Parents are absolutely surprised when they realise their child has poor vision in one eye, and they are absolutely delighted when they see the response to treatment,” says Prof Martin of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney.

“I firmly believe it should be a national program.”

Parents who have a concern about their child’s vision should not wait for screening.

They should see a GP or early childhood health centre, says Dr Murphy, senior clinical adviser for child health at NSW Kids and Families.

The NSW program differs from most other areas of Australia because of the way it reaches out to children at preschool and day care. It also offers a catch up program for children up to the age of five.

This results in high participation, according to the article.

“I am overwhelmed by the success of the program,” says Dr Murphy.