Focusing on the Impact of Clear Vision with KidSight

By Ian Boyd & Melissa Stephenson, KidSight

With the help of the United Way of Central Missouri, Saving KidSight (KidSight) is making a difference in children’s lives. A great example is Lexi’s story. Lexi is a vibrant and energetic preschooler who loves reading, doing puzzles and playing outside. At two years old, Lexi received a free KidSight vision screening at her daycare. In a non-intrusive span of 5-8 seconds, the screening indicated that Lexi was farsighted in her left eye and at risk for refractive amblyopia.

Refractive amblyopia develops when there is a large or unequal amount of refractive error between a child’s eyes. Like other forms of amblyopia (a.k.a. “lazy eye”), it can cause permanent vision loss if not treated by age 7. Unfortunately, refractive amblyopia often goes undetected because the child does not complain of blurry vision and the eyes do not look abnormal. It takes a screening, like the one provided by KidSight, to alert the family that there is an issue.

After receiving the screening results, Lexi’s parents were in disbelief. She had never complained about her vision, and they had never noticed any red flags. They took the KidSight packet to their pediatrician and were referred to a local ophthalmologist. The results from Lexi’s full eye exam showed even more of a disparity than the initial screening. Since her vision disorder was caught early, her doctor decided to prescribe glasses to help her brain learn to use and strengthen vision in her left eye.

KidSight has provided vision screenings for Missouri children, like Lexi, for over 25 years. Our mobile vision screening program goes out to daycares, schools and public events to screen children as young as six months old and as old as 18 years. Last year alone, KidSight staff and volunteers screened over 43,500 children in 102 counties in Missouri, almost 7,500 of which were in the United Way of Central Missouri service area.

Many of these children would go without the vision care they need until they are much older simply because their parents do not know there is an issue. Lexi’s mother said, “We would have never expected an issue with Lexi’s vision. Her dominant eye is doing all the work, so she expresses no difficulties with seeing. By the time she would have been tested for the first time, her vision would be far worse.”

KidSight’s program relies on well-trained volunteers to screen in as many schools and daycares as we are able. Training a KidSight volunteer screener takes an average of 2 months of classroom training combined with field training. Team Jefferson City is made up of Lions from the Jefferson City Host Lions Club and is one of our biggest volunteer screening teams with over 20 volunteers serving throughout the year. Led by Lions Janice and Billy Bonnot, Team Jefferson City screens nearly every student in the Jefferson City School District as well as children at 45 other partner sites in surrounding areas. Janice said, “Billy and I believe that the KidSight vision program is so important in finding potential eye problems in children.  We want all children to be successful both in school and life, and good vision helps make this possible.  The Jefferson City Host Lions Club has a great vision screening team and we enjoy visiting the schools.”

Early detection of vision disorders is essential to early childhood learning and development. KidSight prioritizes screening children that are six months to 6 years of age in hopes of providing parents with knowledge and power before it’s too late. KidSight staff and volunteers use our vision screening cameras to quickly capture an image of a child’s eyes, which immediately produces a “pass” or “refer” result. These results are recorded and sent home to the parents the same day of the screening.

An important part of KidSight’s program is the referral navigation we provide for at-risk children after our screenings. We know that not every family has equal access to vision care. That’s why, in addition to alerting families of their child’s referral, we also provide them a packet of information including next steps, FAQs and a list of child-friendly eye doctors in their area. KidSight follows up with parents via text messages, phone calls and emails to ensure their child can quickly get the vision care they need. We also work with site directors and school nurses to connect with families when necessary. KidSight maintains several partnerships to help families pay for vision care and replacement glasses, as needed.

Recently, KidSight received funding from the United Way of Central Missouri to purchase another vision screening camera, which will allow us to provide more sight saving screenings for central Missouri children. These cameras are essential to our work, allowing us to be able to quickly and accurately screen 5,000+ children a year per camera. These funds have also allowed us to seek matching funds from the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to purchase an additional vision screening camera. KidSight has successfully applied and received funding from LCIF in the past, and we are confident we will be able to secure this match.

We are so grateful for the support of the United Way of Central Missouri! This Community Support Grant will help ensure we can continue providing this important service to the children of Missouri. KidSight Executive Director, Katherine Patterson-Paronto said, “So much of our work is dependent on whether we have the equipment available for a screening.  The United Way of Central Missouri’s grant will allow us to purchase two cameras to use in one of our busiest areas of the state.  We are so grateful that we will be able to screen more children and get them the vision care they need.”  If you’d like more information on our work, you can visit our website or find us on social media with @KidSightMO.