A brand-new clinic at Texas Children’s West Campus is empowering children with visual impairment to make the most of the sight they have and live more independent lifestyles.
Texas Children’s Vision Enhancement Center – the only pediatric low vision clinic in Houston and one of only a few in the nation – was started this past January to meet the tremendous need for specialty care for children in Greater Houston living with various forms of visual impairment that can’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, surgery or medicine.
The clinic, made possible through a generous gift from Kathy and George Bishop, is spearheaded by Texas Children’s pediatric optometrist Dr. Kelsie Morrison and provides children with tools and techniques to maximize their functional vision so they can perform daily tasks and educational activities.
“The Vision Enhancement Center is the product of a partnership between Dr. Morrison, the Eye Care Department at Texas Children’s and our wonderful hospital administrative partners,” said Dr. David Coats, Texas Children’s chief of Ophthalmology. “This great new service provides promise and hope, and I am very proud to be a part of a team that is so committed to helping children with vision impairment live healthy, happier lives.”
The most common causes of visual impairment, or low vision, in children are inherited or congenital eye diseases, such as oculocutaneous albinism, retinal dystrophies (such as retinitis pigmentosa or Stargardt’s disease), retinopathy of maturity, nystagmus, and optic nerve hypoplasia.
These conditions typically cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of ability to see detail (visual acuity)
- Loss of side or peripheral vision (visual field)
- Constant double vision (diplopia)
- Inability to navigate steps or the edge of curbs (contrast sensitivity)
- Inability to distinguish colors
Children with low vision face special challenges in school, where great emphasis is placed on learning in a visual environment.
“The majority of what we learn as children is absorbed visually,” said Morrison. “The conditions that our patients have make it difficult to take in visual input and process it. Our job is to get a baseline measurement of their functional vision and then test different solutions, such as magnification devices or electronic systems, to find the best fit for each individual patient and to improve their quality of life.”
The Vision Enhancement Center administers a complete assessment of visual function, eye health and the visual demands each patient experiences in educational, home and community settings. This initial exam is a critical step in determining how the child uses their vision to function and whether visual aids and other environmental modifications can make daily tasks – such as reading and writing – more comfortable and manageable. To help gain a clearer picture of the child’s needs, teachers, therapists or other health care workers are encouraged to attend appointments if possible.
A review of visual equipment already in use at home and school, as well as of textbooks and school materials, helps the optometrist make suggestions and offer guidance on what other magnification tools may be needed, such as telescopes, magnifiers, electronic systems (e.g., video displays, virtual reality mountings), or special tools to help patients who have difficulty with contrast or glare. Additional guidance may be offered on potential environmental alterations that can be made at home or in the classroom to help maximize the patient’s vision and improve their daily life.
The response from the community has been tremendous. Volume has been high since the clinic’s opening and there are already plans for expanding clinic space.
“The care and healing provided at this clinic have the ability to transform children’s lives,” said Dr. Allen Milewicz, Texas Children’s chief of Community Surgery and chief surgical officer at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus. “These impactful therapies, and the work of dedicated physicians like Dr. Morrison, make me proud to be part of Texas Children’s.”
Learn more about the Vision Enhancement Center and other services provided by Texas Children’s Division of Ophthalmology.