See The World

Sep. 8, 2015

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FocusFirst seeks out preschoolers with vision problems

Madden Fields-Rogers liked to sit inches away from the family TV.

That was a sign.

But his mom, Tamara, only recognizes that in hindsight.

She did the same as a kid, so she wasn’t worried.

She also didn’t think too much about his atrocious handwriting.

At 4 years old, he had just started learning his letters. Plus he was trying to decide if he wanted to write with his right hand or his left.

“Boys always take a bit longer than girls when it comes to handwriting,” she says, smiling.

Madden enjoyed school and participated with enthusiasm.

He never complained that he couldn’t clearly see what was going on around him — likely because he didn’t know what he was seeing was different from everybody else.

But when his entire St. Ann’s Catholic School class got vision screenings through FocusFirst, his test indicated a significant problem seeing objects at a distance.

Madden has 15 times worse than normal vision.

Finding the focus

FocusFirst, part of the nonprofit Impact America, provides vision screening for preschool children in urban and rural communities.

“Most vision problems manifest themselves at age 2 or 3 so it is important to find those problems in preschool,” says Sarah Louise Smith, executive director of Impact America.

“A child who starts public school with undetected vision problems may be labeled as learning disabled or have behavioral problems, when the real issue is that they don’t see well.”

Rogers, a schoolteacher who wears glasses herself, wasted no time getting Madden a comprehensive follow-up appointment at the Southern College of Optometry, which offers specialized pediatric eye exams.

“They wanted to be sure there was no problem with his eye muscle,” she says.

“All he needed was glasses. He’s nearsighted, like me.”

After picking out the frames he wanted, Madden got his first pair of glasses.

Rogers recalls that as soon as he put them on, her “goofball” son became very calm and slowly looked all around the room.

Then he turned to her, saying wondrously:

“I can see everything, Mommy.”


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Photos by Steve Jones.