InfantSEE Offers No-Cost Vision Assessments for Babies

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Most children get a basic vision screening in elementary school. But the founders of InfantSEE® realized that it’s just not early enough, or thorough enough, to identify some eye conditions that can impact a child’s development and learning ability.

Glen Steele, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO, an optometrist based in Tennessee, co-founded InfantSEE with the late W. David Sullins. Steele and Sullins first had the idea in 1998, but it took until 2005 to launch InfantSEE, a public health program managed by Optometry Cares® – the AOA Foundation.

The team postponed the program’s launch until recruiting enough optometrists across the country. These professionals agreed to offer free, comprehensive eye and vision assessments for infants aged 6-12 months. This applies irrespective of a family’s income or insurance access. The program aims to integrate eye and vision care into infant wellness. Ultimately, it seeks to enhance a child’s quality of life.

Making a difference from the beginning

Once InfantSEE recruited enough optometrists – aiming to have one within 30 minutes of every family whenever possible – the organization launched on the TODAY Show in 2005. The program was announced by then-Chair Scott Jens, O.D., along with former President Jimmy Carter, InfantSEE’s national honorary spokesperson.

“President Carter reported that he has two grandchildren with amblyopia or lazy eye,” Dr. Steele explains. “He said that should not have happened with the resources he has access to.”

What’s more, Dr. Steele says, a pregnant woman watching the show decided to take her baby to an InfantSEE member provider when she was six months old.

“The woman’s mother told her that wasn’t necessary, but she took her daughter anyway, and it was determined the baby had retinoblastoma, eye cancer, and nobody had recognized it before,” Dr. Steele says. “They removed the eye, and now she’s a healthy 17-year-old. The mother left us a voicemail saying, ‘Thank you for saving my daughter’s life.’”

Recognizing the connection between vision and child development

InfantSEE now has a network of roughly 4,000 providers around the country. The program only counts the results of exams that providers report to them, but 160,000 babies’ exams have been reported since 2005 – and Dr. Steele says the number is undoubtedly higher. He says consistently, 10% of all of the babies reported need some follow-up.

Dr. Steele points out the critical role vision plays in development. “As I call it, ‘look, attend, focus, identify, and engage,’” he explains. “If the infant has any issues – such as extreme amount of farsightedness or nearsightedness – the whole development process is potentially compromised.”

InfantSEE providers use specialized equipment and procedures not part of most vision exams. In an InfantSEE assessment, an optometrist checks for severe or imbalanced nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. They also assess eye movement and eye health. This thorough care is crucial for early issue detection. Early detection helps babies develop necessary visual abilities for growth and learning.

Dedication to children’s eye health

After the first detailed exam for infants aged 6-12 months, InfantSEE extended it to 18 months during COVID. This change accommodated difficulties in visiting optometrists. The American Optometric Association then advises a screening at three years, another before first grade, and annually thereafter.

Dr. Steele notes that despite COVID-related challenges faced by doctors. Such as reduced waiting room capacity and staff shortages. InfantSEE providers have remained active.

“This tells me the character of the providers in our profession,” Dr. Steele says, “that they remain committed to our program.

It’s easy for parents to search for an InfantSEE provider that offers no-cost vision assessments. The program’s website has a search page parents can use to fill in their city, state, zip code, and the distance they’re willing to travel. They can also search by a doctor’s name.

August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month – making it a great time to find an InfantSEE provider or arrange for an older child’s vision screening.