Caring for patients with special needs

April 21, 2022
Courses at Optometry’s Meeting® June 15-18 in Chicago address the care of patients with special needs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million U.S. adults are living with some type of disability. And children with developmental disabilities “often have increased needs for health care and services.”
Caring for patients with special needs

With a growing number of children between the ages of 3 and 17 being diagnosed with developmental disabilities—up from 16.2% in 2009-2011 to 17.8% in 2015-2017 in a study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—doctors of optometry have a role to play in providing eye and vision care to children.

For instance, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (8.5% to 9.5%), autism spectrum disorder (1.1% to 2.5%) and intellectual disabilities (0.9% to 1.2%) saw increases, according to the CDC. And visual impairment is often associated with other impairments in children and adults.

“The vision problems in this population are much higher than the typically developing population,” says Catherine Heyman, O.D., who will present a course, “Evaluation and Management of Patients with Special Needs,” June 15 at Optometry’s Meeting®  in Chicago. “So, the need for vision care is greater.”

Vision care can potentially positively impact patients’ ability to learn and improve their quality of life, adds Dr. Heyman, who is an associate dean of student affairs and associate professor in the Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University.

The course

In her two-hour course, Dr. Heyman covers a number of topics, relying on her years of providing clinical care to patients and as coordinator of the Special Population/Pediatric Visual Impairment Service at the University Eye Center at Ketchum Health. Her research includes the effects of visual impairment in children on accommodation, and she is an active investigator for the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group. Her schedule is booked months in advance, reflecting the demand for her services.

The course is aimed at doctors of optometry looking to build upon their skills in order to care for patients with special needs. Dr. Heyman will offer wisdom such as:

  • Sometimes you have to rely on your objective tests more than having the person respond.
  • You don’t have to change your skills to care for patients with disabilities. You’re adapting them.
  • Practitioners should know what to look for going into the exam. Look up what you might expect to find.
  • Create a waiting area environment where they won’t be overstimulated.
  • Be prepared to be a part of an interdisciplinary team caring for a patient.

“With a few modifications to your exam room, potentially your waiting room, how you approach the patient, anybody can see this population,” she says. “The course is for anyone who is interested in learning a little bit more about how to reach this population and do it well. The things I am talking about would be translatable to adults or children.”

Learning opportunities

Register for Optometry’s Meeting, which offers the most pertinent and actionable learning to date! New, revamped educational formats offer interactive, experiential learning that enables doctors to practice at the top of their license. Over 200 hours of expert-led continuing education (CE) and professional development (22 CEE/TQ credits) are available.

What: Evaluation and Management of Patients with Special Needs
: Wednesday, June 15, 3-5 p.m.
Who: Doctors
Credit hours:
 2 hours CEE, COPE

Providing Visual Care to Patients on the Autism Spectrum
: Friday, June 17, 7-8 a.m.
Who: Doctors and paraoptometrics
Credit hours:
1 hour COPE, CPC

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