How to Make Kids’ Eye Exams Less Scary

Pediatric orthoptist Judy Petrunak of Children's Eye Care offers tips on how to make kids feel at ease, and how her local practice employs a unique 'more toys, less tears' approach to care.

Pediatric orthoptist Judy Petrunak, C.O., tells the anxious tykes coming into the office for an eye exam that it’s the easiest doctor’s visit they’ll ever have.

“I let them know that we’ll play games, watch movies and play with special flashlights,” says Petrunak of Children’s Eye Care, which has locations in Clinton Township, Dearborn, Detroit and West Bloomfield. “I tell them that we’re going to look at how their eyes see and how they work together as a team.”

For their anxious parents, she has a different message.

“There are no wrong answers when it comes to a child’s responses during an eye exam,” notes Petrunak, who often observes parents jumping in when their child gives a “wrong” response. “It’s not pass or fail.”

Petrunak stresses that it’s OK if a child who typically knows all of her letters and numbers is timid in the office setting.

“There are many nonverbal ways for us to assess a child’s eyesight,” explains Petrunak, who notes that even infants can have their eyes examined.

To assess fixation, for example, Petrunak and the Children’s Eye Care team use lights, toys and prisms to check if the child’s eyes are responding equally.

“We compare what one eye does in relation to the other,” Petrunak explains.

While it may be necessary for Petrunak to apply eye drops to a patient, it’s not something she recommends parents bring up ahead of time.

“If we need to apply drops, I let the children know I have one more thing to show them,” she says. “Then I pull out a little bottle and put a drop in their hand. Next I tell them I am going to put a baby drop in each eye that will feel just like it does on their hand. Usually, they comply, and we’re done in 10 seconds.”

The Children’s Eye Care team also sets kids at ease with its “no white coats” policy.

“Everyone who works here wears a cardigan or a polo shirt with our logo,” Petrunak says. “Typically you’ll also see us with toys in our pockets or around our necks!”

It’s not unusual for Petrunak and other staff members to sit on the floor with the child to conduct the exam. Songs, dance and play are also a regular part of each child’s visit.

“The whole exam is playful,” she says. “We coax kids out of their anxiety by making it fun.”

To make an appointment with a Children’s Eye Care doctor, call the location near you.

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