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New study finds children with autism may face higher risk of eye disorders, but are less likely to get screened

A recent study conducted by Nemours Children’s Health found kids with autism have a higher risk for serious eye disorders, but are less likely to receive vision screening.

The initial stages of childhood are crucial to eyesight, and early detection of problems and subsequent treatment can prevent long-term damage, or even vision loss.

This week, Delaware Public Media’s Kyle McKinnon sat down with Dr. Brittany Perry – the study’s senior author and pediatrician at Nemours Children’s Health – to learn more about the study and its findings.

Pediatrician Dr. Brittany Perry talks with Delaware Public Media’s Kyle McKinnon about disparities in eye exam care for children with autism

Kids with autism not only have a higher risk for serious eye disorders, but they are less likely to receive vision screening.

The findings are from a study by Nemours Children’s Health.

Dr. Brittany Perry is the study’s senior author and Nemours pediatrician.

"36% of children with autism had vision screening compared to 59% of children without autism," said Perry.

Perry says the numbers are even worse for Black children who had a 27.6% screening rate.

"There were significant racial disparities within the percent of vision screening, and if you were a black child with autism you were significantly less likely to have received a vision screen compared to a white child with autism or a child who was identified as multiracial," said Perry.

Florida facilities had much higher rates of vision screenings at almost 46% compared to Delaware and Pennsylvania at 28%.

80% of Florida medical practices used the testing method of photoscreening which uses a specialized camera or video system to capture detailed images of the eyes which is helpful for children with autism.

Only 13% of medical facilities in Delaware and Pennsylvania use photoscreening.

Perry notes that early childhood is crucial for vision development, and long-term vision loss can be prevented by early detection and treatment of eye problems.

Perry says doctors and parents have to make sure young children with autism get more eye screenings.

"We need to be more aware of this healthcare disparity for young children with autism, and it can alert parents to be advocates and request that vision screening be done at the well-visit,” said Perry. “Or primary care providers making more referrals for eye exams in children who are unable to complete the screening."

The study examined children ages 3-to-5 from 2016 to 2019 in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

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Kyle McKinnon is a producer for The Green with a passion for storytelling and connecting with people.
Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.