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In New Zealand we have an excellent ‘before school’ screening programme of children between the ages of 4 and 5. Screening includes a test of the finest detail a child can see (visual acuity) which is intended to signal if a child may have a problem that would best be dealt with by an optometrist.

Recent research, led by Dr Lisa Hamm, has been looking at whether current screening tests could be improved through testing (a) not with letters (which children may struggle to name) but symbols specially designed for children (‘The Auckland Optotypes’, shown below) and (b) using tablet computers. We compared visual acuity in 121 children (5-12 years) with the current screening test, our new test, and a third (reference) test. Then each child had an eye exam to see if they had a vision problem.

Above: The symbols used for testing, ‘The Auckland Optotypes’

The new system was better at correctly identifying children with a vision problem than the current test. Lisa is now exploring how these findings can be translated into ways of improving current screening.