Nfld. & Labrador

Bringing a problem into focus: N.L. optometrist gets second opinion on daughter's vision

Sometimes even an expert needs a second opinion. Corner Brook optometrist Dr. Deidre MacDonnell had a hunch something was wrong with her child's vision, so she took her to a vision therapist who diagnosed the problem.

Deidre MacDonnell fears more children may be going undiagnosed and untreated

Molly MacDonnell, 7, wears special goggles called a Visagraph as part of a functional vision assessment completed by Dr. Sarah Hutchens at her clinic in St. John's. (Deidre MacDonnell/Submitted)

A Newfoundland optometrist says it never hurts to get a second opinion, even when you have expertise yourself.

Dr. Deidre MacDonnell's seven-year-old daughter, Molly, was recently diagnosed with an oculomotor dysfunction after she'd been having some trouble with her reading.

MacDonnell, who's been an optometrist since 2003, says Molly could read at an appropriate level for a Grade 2 student, but her reading wasn't fluid.

"She was reading chapter books, but it was still very choppy, and she really couldn't get a flow going at all," said MacDonnell.

MacDonnell said her daughter often had to use a bookmark or ruler under a line of text to hold her place on the page.

Hard to see what was wrong

Molly does wear low-prescription eyeglasses, but MacDonnell knew that wouldn't account for Molly's troubles.

She did yet another routine eye exam, but couldn't bring the problem into focus until she took her to a vision therapist in St. John's.

"I decided it was something that warranted some further investigation," MacDonnell told CBC's Newfoundland Morning.

MacDonnell took Molly to see Dr. Sarah Hutchens, an optometrist with extra training in vision disorders and therapy.

Hutchens took more than two hours to do a functional vision assessment on Molly, to look not only at how the eyes gather information, but also at how the brain processes it.

Clear view of the problem

Hutchens determined that Molly has an oculomotor dysfunction which means her eye movements are not well controlled.

As a result, as Molly's eyes move along a line of text, her eyes don't always land accurately on the next word or phrase.

And that's what was causing the choppiness in her reading, according to MacDonnell.

Molly was recently diagnosed with a vision disorder by a specialist in St. John's. Her mother, Dr. Deidre MacDonnell, was sure there was something wrong with Molly's vision because of the trouble her daughter was having with reading. (Cherie Wheeler/CBC)

Like physio for your eyes

Molly's vision problems won't go away overnight and, with a diagnosis, the hard work of correcting the problem has just begun.

MacDonnell said her daughter now has a vision therapy program, which she compares to physiotherapy.

"If you had an injury or a functional problem with a muscle, you would go to physiotherapist, and they would give you exercises to improve the function," said MacDonnell.

In the same way, Molly has an individualized, prescribed daily program that takes about 15 minutes.

One exercise requires her to repeatedly catch a ball hung from the ceiling, and another one involves covering one eye and reading text alternately from small and large charts.

Sees a need

Based on her own family's experience, MacDonnell is now even more concerned about other children who might go undiagnosed and untreated.

She says her goal now is to come up with ways to better screen her own patients who might need further assessment from a vision therapist such as Dr. Hutchens.

If there's any concern at all, it's really important that you tell your optometrist.- Dr. Deidre MacDonnell

She says good first steps for parents who have concerns would be to bring their child for a routine eye exam and to not be embarrassed to say if the child is struggling with reading.

"If there's any concern at all, it's really important that you tell your optometrist," said MacDonnell.

"If we don't know that piece of information, we really wouldn't know to investigate further."

MacDonnell said statistics show that one in four children has a vision problem and, if they don't get checked, nothing can be done to help them.

"So we have children who are not reading at level who simply need glasses," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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