According to figures reported by the University of Tennessee, even though 85 percent of a child's learning is vision-related, about 80 percent of American children have never had their eyes tested before starting kindergarten. Even when tests are performed, they are usually only capable of detecting no more than a couple of conditions. Unfortunately, this means that vision-related learning disabilities such as dyslexia can be missed, and may not be noticed until they are well-established. Now, however, researchers at U Tennessee's Space Institute have developed a new type of vision-testing system for young children, that could catch a variety of vision problems while they're still reversible.

The device, known as the Dynamic Ocular Evaluation System (DOES), is reportedly inexpensive, kid-friendly, and only takes about a minute to learn how to use. It was invented by Ying-Ling Ann Chen, a research assistant professor in physics. She was assisted by Lei Shi, a post-doctoral research associate in laser application, and Jim Lewis, a professor emeritus in physics.

"Vision screening is important at an early age to detect several different causes of vision disorders," said Chen. "The few children that do get screened today aren't being screened adequately. For instance, many current screening methods do one eye at a time and studies show young eyes will accommodate significantly, and this causes inaccurate results."

Children using DOES simply sit and watch a three-minute cartoon, or play a computer game. No scary eye dilation is necessary, nor are any verbal responses from the child - this point is particularly important, as children taking eye tests are sometimes simply too young to know what their vision should be like, so what they tell clinicians can be misleading.

As the cartoon begins, a three-second procedure uses infra-red light to assess the child's ocular alignment, and checks for binocular refractive risks, high-order aberrations, ocular scattering, and significant neural problems. This is followed by dynamic tests for less significant signs of abnormal ocular alignment, neural responses, and amblyopia (lazy eye). The researchers plan on adding more tests, that would use the child's vision to check for mental problems including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, and dyslexia.

All of the data and images are digitally recorded, and can be sent electronically to specialists if needed.

Chen and her U Tennessee colleagues hope that DOES could someday become a standard piece of equipment in pediatrician's offices. "By not testing our youth, we are potentially missing the window for effective treatment for a lot of conditions," she stated.