Eye Exams for Special Needs and Nonverbal Patients

Our office welcomes patients with all abilities and is known for treating the special needs population.

Many parents are concerned about bringing their kids in and wonder how vision can be tested accurately when their child can’t communicate typically, but we are able to adapt our vision tests and eye health evaluations accordingly. Our digital technology along with our upbeat, compassionate and patient approach help to make eye exams an enjoyable experience for all our patients.

Read more about Dr. Maule’s dedication to specialize in treating special needs children:
From The Lane: Treating Your Autistic Patient

The number of children diagnosed with autism continues to grow at an alarming rate. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls will present symptoms that place them on the autism spectrum. It’s a safe bet that if you aren’t personally affected with a family member with autism, you know someone who is.

The signs and symptoms of autism vary as greatly as those diagnosed. Some may exhibit all or a combination of these common symptoms, although to differing degrees, including an inability to maintain eye contact, difficulty with language, struggles with understanding others’ feelings, the repetition of words or phrases, repetitive behaviors such as flapping, rocking or spinning, and/or an intense reaction to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors.

For those living with autism, the challenge to daily navigate this noisy and confusing world is real.

Dr. Tamara Maule, an optometrist who runs an independent practice affiliated with LensCrafters, is familiar with the challenges. “I have a heart for these kids,” she explains.
The mother of a 17-year-old autistic son “who’s wonderful and a lot of fun”, Dr. Maule brings a unique perspective to the lane. When her son was younger, Dr. Maule teamed up with the her son’s school, The Palm Beach School for Autism, and offered eye exams for any of the staff and students who wanted them. She donated all collected fees back to the school.

Her patients’ experiences from that fundraiser and their subsequent referrals helped grow her practice into one known for treating special needs kids. She’s proud that families trust her and actively markets her unique skill set to her community for the opportunity to treat more kids. Although she’d argue she’s not an expert, her personal understanding of how to communicate with an autistic child earned over years of practice, make her an undeniable standout for families searching for eye care for their special needs child in the Boca Raton area. Search for eye exams for autistic kids in her area? Her name tops the list.

Taking a cue from Dr. Maule’s eye doctor playbook, doctors wanting to reach this niche should follow these six tips.

Take off the white coat.

Wearing a doctor’s coat may be intimidating and cause angst for a child already uneasy about an eye exam. Be approachable. Be friendly and accommodating. Ditch the coat.

Make it a game.

It’s not uncommon to see Dr. Maule on the floor playing with her young patient. “You can do a lot of preliminary testing while playing with puzzles,” she says. For example, she’ll assess visual fields and motilities when her young patients are distracted with a toy.
Think outside the box. Or lane.

Dr. Maule first examined one patient in the front seat of his mom’s car. From there, they moved to the play area in the front office. “I showed him the sight line to the exam room,” she says and promised to “give a ride up and down” in the chair. “It took three appointments to get the child into the exam room, but he did it!”

Explain what you’re doing.

Invite patients for an office visit prior to their appointment to help them get comfortable with the space and staff. Encourage parents to visit the practice website to see photos to help set expectations. Not knowing what comes next puts many autistic kids on edge. When kids arrive in the office, Dr. Maule explains each step of the process. Say, “This test will take ten seconds, let’s count it down.”

Patience. Patience. Patience.

“Follow their lead,” says Maule. “(During the pre-testing) Get what you can get but don’t worry about what you can’t.” She often instructs her staff to test one eye at a time in the autorefractor instead of doing both together. Doctors and staff need to roll with it and let the special needs patient set the pace.

Book extended exam times.

Build in extra time to spend with your special needs patients. Book an hour instead of a half-hour. Engage and include the parent or caregiver throughout the entire exam.

“Lots of people don’t consider a LensCrafters office as the place to go,” says Dr. Maule. They should. “We have the equipment, personality and ability to treat a range of special needs including Down Syndrome and non-verbal patients. All of my techs are awesome with no specialized training other than my explaining how to work with this special needs population. They treat them (special needs patients) with kindness, patience and respect.” In her more than ten years of treating special needs kids, she can’t pick a favorite. “They’re all my favorites,” she laughs. That one sentence confirms why families return year after year to her practice for their child’s eye health. Dr. Maule loves them all.

Read another article: https://www.alldocsod.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ALLDocs-2015-q3.pdf